The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
: Job 38.1-11; 2 Corinthians 6.1-13; Mark 4.35-41
It was a great treat a few weeks ago to be invited to stand on the stage of the Globe Theatre, just a short distance from here, and bless the stage and the theatre before it reopened after such a long period of darkness, of closure. As I left the stage the place came alive with all the fun of a rumbustious performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
But last weekend we returned for a very different experience, a production of ‘The Tempest’, the last play to be written by Shakespeare and perhaps written whilst he was a resident here in what’s now the Cathedral parish.
The play opens, as you know, in a storm battered boat, the boatswain trying to keep control of the ship; the crew and the passengers being tossed around by the tempest that gives the play its name. It was a powerful moment as the actors threw themselves around the stage and we were drawn into the experience.
Some years ago we were on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. One of the highlights is always the boat trip on the Sea of Galilee, boarding from the hotel in which we’re staying, if the level of the lake is high enough, and then sailing off to the centre of the lake where the engines can be turned off and in the silence and in the stillness and under a beating sun the passage that we’ve just heard is read. Except that on this particular occasion the weather was playing its part. There was a storm; it was pouring with rain and the wind was blowing it at us; the tarpaulin pulled across the boat was hardly keeping us dry. We read the passage and realised just what it might’ve been like for Jesus and his disciples.
Of course, most of them were used to the sea and the unpredictability of the weather. Most of them were fishermen. Most of them knew how to manage a boat in a storm, on the lake. Most of them should have been in their comfort zone – but it seems that all of them had been caught unawares and were at their wits end. As we just heard in the psalm (Psalm 107)
their soul melteth away because of the trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man: and are at their wits’ end.
It was this that the disciples were going through, for some reason, despite their skill, despite everything they knew and had experienced ‘their soul melteth away’.
St Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, our Second Reading, speaks of the turmoil, the tempest that he’s been going through
in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger.
The list is long and we recognise in it someone who has lived through all of what life can throw at us, all that can come along and set us off balance, so that we too ‘reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man.’ The tempest is not just something that we experience on water, in a boat, away from the land, as a victim of the elements of which God speaks to Job in our First Reading. The tempest can throw us off balance at any moment; our usual coping mechanisms seem to disappear, we’re at our wits end.
The last fifteen months have tested us, perhaps beyond our limits. Though the effects of the pandemic have landed differently on each of us, we’ve all gone through this together and we’re all going through this together. There’s a tempest raging and we’re still caught in it.
The postponement of so called ‘Freedom Day’ came as a blow and we can hardly dare to believe that what the Prime Minter is now calling the ‘Terminus’ on 19 July will actually happen. We stagger from dates to data and wonder how we can possibly find our way through to a better place.
Humanity has always cried out in anger and frustration to its Gods when things do not go well. The disciples give voice to what so many people have said before and after. Jesus is there asleep in the storm, he doesn’t appear to be at all affected by what his friends are going through, oblivious to their fear, disengaged from their terror, seemingly uncaring of their torment. And in Mark’s direct way of telling the gospel we hear all that panic emerging as they wake the Lord and say to him
‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’
Do you not care?
And Jesus addresses the wind and he speaks to the waters and there is peace. ‘Peace; be still’ and he says it to us in whatever it is that you, that we, are going through at this moment and challenges us as to where our faith is. Peace; be still. The tempest isn’t just outside, it’s inside as well. Peace; be still.
‘Please believe these days will pass.’
When we decided last year to invite Mark Titchner to install his art, not in the street, on billboards, but here in the Cathedral on a monumental scale and when it became clear that it would be pointless in Lent because the Cathedral was closed, yet again, we went for these weeks in June and July. And we thought that it would still be powerful. But we didn’t realise just how poignant, how powerful, how timely it would be.
The God we worship, the God who in creation gave the boundaries to the seas and brought order out of chaos, the God who we know in Jesus, the God we meet at the altar in this Eucharist at the very heart of the tempest of our life, the God who finds us in the midst of the calamities that assail us, is the God who speaks peace into our hearts, into our now, into the storm that can threaten to overwhelm us.
But there is more to say. The poet William Wordsworth begins his poem ‘After the storm’ with these words
There was a roaring in the wind all night;
The rain came heavily and fell in floods;
But now the sun is rising calm and bright;
and the psalmist says something similar
‘he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.’
Thrown onto the shore of the mysterious island, Shakespeare’s terrified travellers find themselves untouched by the storm and in a better place, a ‘brave new world’.
God will bring us to a better place, God’s brave new world, beyond the storm, that place of peace, of order restored, of calm, and here we glimpse it now. Wherever you are, whatever is going on around you, within you, Jesus speaks peace to you. Be still. The sun is rising calm and bright. Peace; be still.