For sailers, swimmers, and even just watchers of the sea, this is one of the best loved Gospels. Evocative and highly imaginable it isn’t difficult to place oneself upon that boat, nervous of the squall, confused by the fret, and worried about how choppy the waters were getting.
The squalls on the Galilee, much like the frets in Seaford bay, would come in very quickly and without much notice - which may be one reason why Christ is depicted as still sleeping. The whole story though, illustrating Christ’s inherent divinity, by being the one to master the waves, has firmly stood the test of time.
I share with you today two paintings of this Gospel story, the first is a now stolen 17th century artwork by Rembrandt, and the second a 21st century work by an Ethiopian artist called Laura James - who in her Van Gogh’ style illustrate the swirling of the waves and the whistling of the wind, the same that Rembrandt also manages to capture with an extra inclusion of light descending into the scene.
In these two works we see how Mark’s Gospel still speaks powerfully across centuries, an enduring placing of Christ in the sometimes stormy experience of human beings. You may take these away with you, but I’d like you to just look at them for now.
It is, a far earlier - fourth century - reception and treatment of this Gospel that has stuck with me ever since I first read it. Saint Augustine of Hippo delivered one of his shortest sermons on this Gospel, and of all the sermons that I have studied from his body of work this one in particular has never left me.
As I read to you his words today, I would like you to look at these paintings - find yourself in them and hear what he has to say:
‘I have something to say to you, if the Lord enables me to do so, about the reading from the holy Gospel which we have this moment heard. And in it, I want to urge you not to let the faith sleep in your hearts against the storms and waves of this world. After all, it can scarcely be true that Christ the Lord had power over death, and did not to have power over sleep, and that sleep possibly overtook the almighty against his will, as he was out sailing, if you do believe this, he is asleep in you. But if Christ is awake in you. Your faith is awake too. The Apostle says that Christ made well through faith in your hearts. So even the sleep of Christ is a sign and a sacred symbol. The people sailing in the boat are souls crossing the present age on a paltry piece of wood. The boat was also a figure of the church. We are all of us, temples of God, and every one of us is sailing a boat in his heart, and we don't suffer shipwreck if we think good thoughts.
Maybe you hear an insult or an opposing opinion and it riles you up - that’s a high wind; you’ve got angry - that’s a wave. Maybe life twists beyond your control. And so as the wind blows and the waves break, the boat is in peril, your heart is in peril. Your heart is tossed about. When you hear the insult or feel the frustration, you are eager to avenge it, you do avenge it, and by giving way to someone else's evil or passing on your pain, you suffer shipwreck. And why is that?
Because Christ is asleep in you.
What does it mean that Christ is asleep in you?
That you have forgotten Christ.
So wake Christ up.
Let Christ stay awake in you.
Think about him.
What were you wanting, revenge or recompense?
The one who was asleep there in your heart did not want these things.
So we must wake him up. Call him to mind. The memory of him is his word. The memory of him is his command. And if Christ is awake in you, you will say to yourself, why am I wanting to get my own back, why do I want to harm another. I will restrain my impulses and return to calmness of heart.
Christ will command the sea, and there will come a great calm.
You can hold on to this notion, as a rule to be followed in all your temptations and troubles; A temptation arises, it's a wind. You are troubled by something, it’s a wave. Wake Christ up, let him talk to you. He who the winds and the sea obey, will calm the squalls in your hearts. Be like the winds and the sea and hear the Creator.
At Christ's command the sea hears and the wind drops. So don't let the waves overwhelm you when your heart is upset by a temptation or trouble. If the wind has driven us on and shaken our souls with passion, don't let's despair.
Let's wake up Christ.
And so sail on, in a calm sea,
and reach our real home.
The Rev'd Arwen Folkes, with much help from St Augustine of Hippo! June 20th - Trinity 3