Homily for Sunday, June 24, 2018
Last year at this time I was on sabbatical, riding my bicycle around the Great Lakes. Over the past few weeks I’ve been revisiting my journals and remembering the trip. Four weeks ago (last year), on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, after a few weeks of being in the woods on the north sides of Lakes Huron and Superior, I finally pulled into Duluth, Minnesota. (Given where I’d been, arriving in Duluth felt like arriving in Paris!) On June 11 Shaw flew into Duluth with his bicycle, and the two of us started the ride back east. Last week, on June 16, we kayaked at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Lake Superior off Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And a year ago today—exactly one year ago—Shaw and I were in the middle of Lake Michigan, crossing over from Milwaukee to Muskegon, in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
As the high-speed ferry whisked us out into the lake, and as I watched the Wisconsin shoreline recede, I was suddenly overcome with what I can best describe as a “letting go.” Those shores were the shores along which I had grown up, where as a boy I had gone swimming and fishing and learned to skip stones. Those were the shores along which in high school I used to go for early-morning runs or bicycle rides and watched the sun rise over the lake. Those were the shores along which our high school class had gathered to watch the sunrise after prom and where many of us had graduation pictures taken. Those were the shores along which not only I had grown up, but where my parents had grown up. And both of their parents on both sides before them. Those shores had been home for me. And in that moment, as I watched that shoreline grow smaller and smaller on the horizon until finally it disappeared, I remember thinking, “That part of my life is over.” I was grateful for the next two hours to be surrounded by nothing but the waves, to process this “death,” as it were. AND… to consider, as we headed east, how Massachusetts is now home.
In today’s gospel lesson Jesus and his disciples are in the middle of a lake. The Sea of Galilee is nowhere near as large as Lake Michigan, but it is nonetheless a sizeable body of water, and crossing over would have taken a while in the small boats of first-century Palestine. And if a storm were to come up on the lake, as it did in today’s gospel lesson, it could be terrifying.
If my experience of crossing Lake Michigan was a “letting go” experience—a kind of death, really—how much more must have the disciples’ experience of crossing the Sea of Galilee been a “letting go,” a kind of death? Not only did they cross a body of water—which since ancient times, crossing over water has been a symbol death—but while in the middle of the lake they experienced a raging storm. Fittingly, the language Mark uses in today’s lesson rings with death:
- On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them: “Let us go across to the other side.”
- He was in the stern asleep on the cushion.
- “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
- “Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead”
I think Mark’s language choice was intentional here, and he drives the death connection home by setting the very next story in a graveyard—the Gerasene demoniac dwelling among the tombs—and the next story after that being the death of Jairus’ daughter. And the story sandwiched within that the story is the story of the woman hemorrhaging blood. I think for Mark, today’s gospel story is about death.
We know that Mark’s community was a community undergoing persecution, probably some of them even being put to death. So in his gospel Mark speaks to them as a pastor, and in his language of death meets them where they are. AND… Mark as pastor reminds them that with Jesus there is always the possibility of resurrection. If today’s gospel is about death, today’s passage is also about resurrection. Though the boat was boat was “already being swamped,” it did make it “across to the other side.” Though Jesus was in the stern asleep on the cushion, “they woke him up;” he arose. When the disciples shouted out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing,” Jesus did restore calm and save them. And though the disciples were afraid, when Jesus stilled the storm they were filled “with great awe:” “Who then is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”
And in the stories that follow, Mark drives home this point of resurrection. The Gerasene demonic is healed and leaves the tombs. Jairus’ daughter is raised from the dead; the hemorrhaging woman’s flow of blood stops.
Mark, as pastor to his community, tells his people that Jesus is with them in their persecution, AND… that Jesus brings resurrection.
In John’s gospel, the two words associated with resurrection are “peace” and “joy;” Mark’s gospel is very different. The two words Mark associates with resurrection are “terror” and “amazement:” “They… fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them,” he writes. We see these two words echoed in today’s lesson: “Why are you afraid?” Jesus asks them. “And [the disciples] were filled with… awe.” Terror and amazement, fear and awe. Here is where Mark bears special witness to us and can be helpful to us—though we trust that, eventually, we will experience John’s peace and joy of the resurrection, there is resurrection to be had, too, in the places where we are afraid, even terrified. Mark’s is a very different experience of resurrection, a saving that is pulled from the depths of our being, a calm that arises from within our own inner “boat” and “storm.” For there in the storm is Jesus. Though he may be asleep, yet he is there in our boat. If we wake him, suggests Mark—calling on him, praying to him, asking him for help—he will arise and restore calm. And we will be amazed, and we will be filled with awe. And then we, too, might proclaim resurrection in a peculiar Mark-like way: “Who then is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”