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1 Corinthians 3:1-19
It seems that each of the events of Our Savior’s earthly life, recorded by the Evangelists, has a Paschal shape. It is especially easy to discern that Paschal shape in this morning’s Gospel.
The Church teaches us in her funerary hymns, for example, that the stormy sea in this morning’s Gospel is an image of this life, “surging with the storm of temptations.” We sing this at a funeral; for, the “storms of temptations” on the “sea of life” rise up from the sea’s dark depths, which are an image of death—making this Gospel especially appropriate for the funeral service. The dark, stormy gales of life can be terrifying. Dark windy skies are above us; giant, terrifying waves beneath us. Such is the tragedy of this world, that there are those for whom the dark storms seem so severe that they look to the dark depths of the sea, death, as their only escape from the terror of the stormy waves on the sea of life.
In this morning’s Gospel, the LORD leads His disciples into “the boat,” it says, while He goes forth into the “beyond.” Again, from the Church, we see “the boat” as the Church, sailing like Noah’s ark on the “sea of life, surging with the storms of temptation.” In its Paschal shape, this moment in this morning’s Gospel corresponds to the “Last Supper,” when the LORD gave to His disciples His Body and Blood in the consecrated bread and wine. He led them into the Boat of His Church, which is His Body, while He went forth into the Night. Dear faithful, the LORD led you into the boat of His Holy Church, His Body, in your baptism and holy Chrismation, and when His Holy Body and Blood were given to you in Holy Eucharist.
It says that He ascended the mountain, by Himself, to pray, that is to be with His Father. From its Paschal shape, what would that mountain be if not Golgotha? That is, the LORD went forth into the “beyond,” into the night of His death on the Cross where He descended into the sea on which this life sits; and, alone with the Father, He dealt with the crowd that came by night to seize Him. That is, in the mystery of His going up the mountain of Golgotha, He dismissed all the demons of the night.
Do you see? The LORD, after putting His disciples in the boat, in the mystery of His Body, the Church, and sending them forth into the sea of life, surging with the storms of temptations, Himself went forth into a “storm,” the storm that is beneath all the storms of this life, the storm that rises up from the depths of the sea of death. The LORD that comes to the disciples walking on the stormy sea, then, whom, in fear, they take as a ghost, just as they would in the Upper Room when He appears to them in His Resurrection, is the risen LORD Jesus.
Let’s pause briefly and insert immediately into our study of this morning’s evangelical, Paschal icon this word from St Paul that may show us the Pentecostal colors of this morning’s Gospel: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the power beyond measure might be of God and not of ourselves. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not destroyed, always carrying in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus might also be manifest in our mortal bodies” (2 Cor 4:7-10).
Look more closely at the picture drawn in this morning’s Gospel. It’s night. It’s stormy. That means that the sky is thick with dark clouds. Even if there was a full moon, there is no light. Moreover, gale-force winds are blowing, sending waves crashing over and onto the deck of the boat. The boat is heaving and lurching violently in the turbulent waters. How, then, could they see Jesus walking on the water in the darkness, with the waves crashing all around them and over them, throwing the boat every which way as though it were a toy? It was all they could do, no doubt, simply to hang on!
The True Light, coming into the world, shines in the darkness (of the tomb), and the darkness (the stormy sea of death) could not put it out (Jn 1:4). And Joseph of Arimathea took His body down from the Cross and wrapped it in fine linen and laid it in the rock-hewn tomb. Now, it was the Day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning to grow light! (Lk 23:54) What was that Light shining forth from the LORD’s Tomb in the evening, when it was dark; the sun had already set! It was the Light of Christ, the Light of Him who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life. The disciples could see Jesus even in the darkness of the Night because Jesus is Himself the Light shining in the darkness that the darkness cannot put out.
Dear faithful, you carry in your mortal bodies the death of Jesus, in which the Light of His Resurrection shines, even as they lay Him in the tomb, even as you are surrounded above and beneath by the dark skies and stormy seas of this life.
Peter, it says, sees the LORD walking (in the light of His Resurrection) on the dark, stormy waves. His heart is quickened by his love for the Savior, and he cries out: LORD! If it is you, command me to come to you on the water! Dear faithful, perhaps at your baptism, perhaps at certain moments in your life, your spiritual eyes were opened and you saw, even if for only a brief instant, in the midst of the raging seas of this life, a vision of the Heavenly Bridegroom. Your heart was quickened and you found yourself crying out from the depths: “LORD, I long for you. I want to come to you. I want you in your light to be my refuge, my haven in my life!” Your love for the LORD in that moment was met at once by His love for you, and He answered you even as you spoke: “Come! The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come! Whoever wants to, let him come and drink the water of life given freely, in love!” (Rev 22:17)
Might we say that this moment corresponds to Peter saying to the LORD at the Holy Supper, “I will never betray you?” And, might we say that Peter climbing down from out of the boat corresponds to him following the LORD into the courtyard? And, him looking and seeing the dark waves towering above him ready to come down on him and crush him corresponding to the moment he was threatened by a servant girl and denied the LORD whom he loved three times? But, unlike Judas, when Peter felt himself sinking into the sea, did not hang himself in despair. He went out and wept bitterly. Was not his heart crying out in his tears: “LORD, I am perishing! Save me!” LORD I love you. My love for you is my life. But, I have denied you! I have denied my heart! I have turned away from you who are my only love, my only light, my life and my joy! I cannot live without you, LORD! LORD, save me! LORD, I am a lost sheep. Call me, O LORD, call me from the stormy sea of death, and save me!
How many times have we promised the LORD that we would not deny Him, in those moments when our eyes were opened and our hearts were warm and living in love for the Savior? And we left the beauty of the Divine Liturgy or the Vigil in that firm resolve, only to find that the storms of this life were too big, too overwhelming for us to face, and we denied the Savior whom our hearts love, and we gave ourselves to lords we do not love!
Note that it was when Peter looked away from the LORD in the stormy sea that he began to sink. Note that on the night the LORD ascended the mountain of Golgotha, Peter denied the LORD obviously when he was not looking at Him; for, it says that when the LORD turned to look at Peter, and Peter met the gaze of the LORD’s eyes, that he then realized what he had done; and he went out and wept bitterly.
The LORD heard Peter’s cry on the sea. He reached down and laid hold of his hand. Might this correspond to when the LORD asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”
Because you love the LORD, to some degree, you are here this morning. But, let us understand that our love receives “power beyond measure” to walk on the stormy waves of the sea of life only as we continue to look at the LORD whom we carry in our heart, and not at the stormy waves of life! Let this be our resolve: not to trust in our own strength or our own understanding, but in all our ways to keep the eyes of our heart firmly fixed on the LORD, crying out ceaselessly, “LORD! Save me!” Amen.