Fr. Bill Carroll – The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, June 20, 2021
A former parishioner of mine is a professional photographer. And, as a parting gift to me, she gave me a photo of the altar at the church where we used to serve together. It’s in my office at home. It shows our altar lit up with a hundred, maybe a hundred and twenty candles. It is a quiet image of peace and love. And, whenever I look at it, I feel the presence of God.
The picture comes from Compline, the final prayers of the day. And, this fall, we will resume our once-a-month Compline service here at Trinity. I think it’s a similar kind of feeling we get—the peace and the presence of God. The caption in the photo comes from this ancient liturgy. It says it right there on the photo. It says, “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.” Compline is a time to let go. It’s a time to let go of whatever is troubling us. We bring the day to a close by examining our conscience, preparing for our death, confessing our sins, and handing everything (absolutely everything) over to God.
“Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping.” These words are appointed to be said or sung with the Song of Simeon, a canticle taken from the second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke that has been part of the nighttime prayers of the Church for centuries.
In that story, Simeon is a wise, old prophet. And he’s been in the Temple night and day—praying and waiting for God’s Messiah to come. Simeon is one of the people known as the Anawim—the so-called poor of the land. They are the little ones who have God alone for their helper. Many of them flocked to the penitential movement of John the Baptist—and then became followers of Jesus. Jesus himself—and his mother and foster father—may also have been Anawim. And some of the prophets in the Old Testament are described that way. As Luke tells the story, there’s also an old woman in the Temple named “Anna,” and she is also a prophet.
When Mary and Joseph arrive there, they are bringing the baby Jesus into the Temple—to present him to the LORD and offer the appointed sacrifice. They offer two turtledoves, the sacrifice of the poor. (Those who can afford it are supposed to bring a lamb.) Simeon sees them there and realizes what is happening. And so, he responds with the song we still use at Compline:
Lord, you now have set your servant free *
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations, *
and the glory of your people Israel.
Simeon and Anna have been waiting for a long, long time. They have been longing for the coming of Jesus. Now they can rest in peace, because he is here.
Jesus is the presence of God on this earth. His perfect love for us “casts out” our fear. At Compline, we remind ourselves of his victory over death as we give up control, close our eyes, and go to sleep.
But in the Gospel this morning, Jesus is the one who’s asleep. He is sleeping at the back of the boat, while the disciples are struggling with the storm. The disciples are in fear for their lives, and there Jesus is sleeping as if nothing is happening. The boat is an ancient symbol of the Church. We still call the building where we worship a “nave.” It comes from the same word where we get words like “navy” and “nautical.”
And so, in the Gospel, what we’re looking at is the gathered Church terrified by the wind and sea. The Church is frightened by the scary, scary things that life brings our way. But Jesus is there in the boat, resting—undisturbed and unafraid. It’s really, really irritating. And the disciples do what we might do: They wake Jesus up. Their words to him are filled with accusation: “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re perishing?” Like Israel in Egypt, they are not afraid to complain to their God, and to ask God for help.
And Jesus wakes up right away. He hears their cry. Jesus hears our cries too. Whenever we call upon him, he hears our prayers and responds. But he never, ever shares our anxiety. He knows what it means to be afraid. He knows the terrors of this life far better than we do. But he also knows the power of God. And so, he wakes up and rebukes the wind. Jesus says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And it obeys him. The sea knows its Creator. The winds stop, and there’s a dead calm.
Some of us may struggle with the miraculous dimension of the story. But what’s most important about it is what it tells us about our Lord. Jesus is God-with-us. He joins us in our struggles, and sets us free. In his presence, we don’t have to be afraid. He’s got it all taken care of. That’s what the Gospel is saying about him.
In the story, Jesus is our Creator and Redeemer. He is the God of Genesis, who separates light from darkness and the dry land from the watery chaos. As God reveals himself to Job in the lesson we heard today, he is the one who “prescribes bounds for the sea, when it bursts out of the womb.” He is also God of the Exodus, who leads us safely over Jordan. In his presence, we never have to be afraid.
Jesus is the Lord of wind and sea. He’s also the Lord of life and death.
He knows our fears. He knows every single part of what it means to be human. He knows the terrors of living in our flesh. He knows everything that can go wrong. Some of it has happened to him. We see Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. We see Jesus up on the Cross. He knows it all, and yet he doesn’t give in to our fears.
He is our very best friend—the one who will never let us down, the one who will never, ever, ever forsake us. He is the friend of sinners. He is the friend of all who need God’s help. He is a friend to those of us who struggle with mental illness or addiction. He’s a friend to those of us who hunger for our daily bread. He is a friend of those who are grieving. He is a friend of widows and orphans. As the prophets tell us again and again, our God is a friend to widows and orphans—and other vulnerable people. God is always with us. He is on our side.
And so, Jesus can sleep through that storm. But it’s not because he doesn’t care. Far from it! It’s because Jesus knows that God is good and that God is mighty to save us. That reminds me of one of the most powerful prayers in the whole Prayer Book. It’s the last of the solemn collects on Good Friday. It’s also appointed for ordinations, and it goes like this:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Even now, God has a plan. And he is carrying it out in tranquility. He has a plan for you and for me. He has a plan for his whole world. And he knows that his victory is certain—that his love will be all in all. For, in Jesus Christ, God has already won. He is alive, and he is bringing all things to their perfection.
Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.