25th February 2022

The tempest is raging

In the midst of the buffeting of so many recent storms a hymn I haven’t sung since Sunday School days came to mind: ‘Master, the tempest is raging, the billows are tossing high’.

The verses spell out the plight of the disciples, as described in Matthew 8, at peril in a small boat on the Sea of Galilee, whilst to their annoyance Jesus blissfully sleeps through the danger. Awakened, however, Jesus soon puts things right by rebuking the winds and securing calm upon the waters. The word ‘rebuking’ is interesting as it suggests the winds were driven by some kind of malign force, confirmed by their ‘obeying’ his command. This then links to the following story of Jesus healing two demented men, possessed by evil spirits, when he reached the other side of the lake. Disorder in the weather and disorder in people’s lives are alike abuses of God’s good creation, but the former surprises the disciples most and becomes a true epiphany:  ‘Even the winds and the sea obey him’.

The chorus to the hymn, in which the conversation moves from the disciples to Jesus, also links both events:

              ‘The winds and the waves shall obey my will,

              Peace, be still.

              Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea ,

              Or demons or men or whatever they be,

              No waters shall swallow the ship where lies,

              The master of ocean and earth and skies. 

              They all shall sweetly obey my will.

              Peace, peace, be still.’

Here, and in the writings of the early church, physical storms and the mental/spiritual storms of life are linked together in the certain knowledge that Jesus has power over both. ‘Peace, be still’: in a world of climate change, in a world of deranged political foreboding and alarm, and in our personal crises of trust and belief.

John Briggs