Today’s gospel reading for a service of Holy Communion happens to include the verses for this Sunday (Matthew 14: 22-33). It is an episode which is told slightly differently in the Gospel of Mark and John, and I have frequently reflected on each of these.
There is much in Matthew’s narrative around storm and fear, expectation and faith, and it also has much to say about identity.
Over the past few months I have been very aware of conversations in which people have been pondering their identity, sometimes in relationship to a role which has changed or been taken from them, and sometimes relating to place and what has been revealed about a local community.
As worshipping communities make decisions about emerging from lockdown, future patterns of worship and what it means to be Christ’s good news within the wider community, so much of it is about identity regarding place and who we are individually and together.
As the disciples travel with Jesus they are constantly having to assimilate new information and what it says about who they are and who Jesus is. They have just participated in an amazing miracle as 5,000 people have been fed with a tiny picnic, and they are surely left with questions about their identity and that of Jesus. Now they are once again in a boat on the water and once more in a place of scarcity. Their fear is high and their human resources again seem inadequate as they are battered by the waves and feel far from in control. Then, as so often, the unexpected happens and Jesus comes walking towards them and he speaks words of identity: ‘It is I’.
In those few words so much is held. This is Jesus Christ, and his words resonate with those words heard by Moses hundreds of years earlier at another time of unexpected encounter, this time not on water but by a burning bush when God is revealed as ‘I am’.
The one who walks upon the water is mysteriously and inextricably connected to the one who created it and we are invited to go on discovering our own identity in relationship with this three-in-one God.
My hope and prayer is that amid the expected and unexpected events of August we will each have the opportunity for reflection on our identity and our calling at this time, individually and together; and in all of that may we go deeper in our understanding and experience of who Christ is as he continues to come towards us however strong or weak our faith.
As ever this letter ends with assurance of prayer and heartfelt thanks from myself and Bishop Robert.
A prayer by Bishop George Appleton (modern adaptation by Jim Cotter)
Give me a candle of the spirit, O God
as I go down into the deep of my
Show me the hidden things. Take me
down to the spring of my life, and
tell me my nature and my name.
Give me freedom to grow so that I
may become my true self – the
fulfilment of the seed which you
planted in me at my making.
Out of the deep I cry unto thee, O God.