Sunday 20 February 2022 | All Saints Margaret Street All Saints Margaret Street | Sunday 20 February 2022

Sermon for Sunday 20 February 2022

The Second Sunday before Lent – Year C

“Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

In the early hours of 18th March 1990, an audacious theft took place at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The museum contains the personal collection of a rather grand Anglo-Catholic millionairess. Upon her death she left her house and breath-taking collection of art to be turned into a museum.

The burglary, however, has gone down as the biggest art heist in the entirety of US criminal history, and remains to this day completely unsolved.

Amongst the pictures stolen was a painting by Rembrandt. It depicts a tempest-tossed boat, thrown almost diagonal across the canvass by the raging waves. One person leans over the side to puke into the sea. Another, who bears a cunningly close resemblance to Rembrandt himself, gazes straight out at the viewer. In the stern of the boat, a rather sleepy looking Jesus gradually awakes oblivious to the screaming chaos all around him.

It is an amazing picture. It is Rembrandt’s only sea scape, and nobody has seen it for 30 years.

Most FBI theories about who has the painting revolve around the high likelihood that it lies in the hands of the mafia.  I often think to myself what it must be like to be the mafia boss that secretly has that picture. I wonder how often they get it out to look at it and what they think when they do.

For on one level you don’t have to be a believing Christian to get the power of the scene. It has a pretty universal and direct appeal. The image of a tempest tossed boat is a metaphor for human existence that just about anyone can connect with. Indeed, it is perhaps an image that mafia bosses might find particularly appropriate as an allegory of their own chaotic, and dangerous lives. Who knows.

But the passage we heard this morning in our gospel reading offers us something a little more complex than a simple metaphor for the complexities of life.

For water, throughout the Old Testament is a deeply powerful image hard wired into the Hebrew imagination for primordial chaos. It is from the waters of chaos that ordered life emerges in the creation story in Genesis. And it’s from the sea that the terrifying monster Leviathan comes, whom we hear mentioned in the prophets and the Psalms.

So for Jesus to have the power to control the waves is for him to have divine power over chaos. He embodies an authority only God has. And it amazes those around him. “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

The reason this portion of Luke is set for this week is very important. For in these last two Sundays before Lent – this week and next – the lectionary gives to us two episodes in which Christ is revealed as the embodiment of divine power. Next week we will hear the story of the Transfiguration. This stilling of the storm is a similar sort of narrative, just cast in a slightly different, nautical idiom if you like. We are given a vision of Christ not simply as teacher or holy man, but as the incarnation of God’s power and his presence.

We are given these stories of Christ’s glory and power in the lectionary so we can keep before us the reality of his divine nature. So that amidst the suffering and bewilderment of his Passion which we think about in Lent, we don’t forget the glory that is his, hidden except to the eyes of faith.

The story we hear this morning is one in which chaos gives way to calm. The chaos is engulfing everyone else, but it is Christ who is the centre of calm and stillness.

As we prepare to begin Lent, perhaps one thing we might try to do is make room for moments in which we can sense that calm and that stillness a little more easily.

Coming to Mass during the week is a good way; so is attending Stations of the Cross on Fridays. You might want to give more time to reading and study, or silent prayer and meditation.

Whatever your Lenten practices are, I hope they place you in the stern of that boat we heard about today, with Christ in that place of calm. And there, as he stills the storms that range inside you, you can say with those we read about today, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

Fr Peter Anthony