"Beneath the 'Cushion of the Sea'"

2 Easter.A.20
John 20:19-31
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

Even in the best of conditions submarine captains have to contend with a great deal. They have to be aware of the distance of their sub from the seabed, as well as cognizant of unusual formations lurking beneath, around and sometimes even above them. They need to know how much fuel and oxygen have been consumed, as well as a myriad of other details which could spell disaster if not heeded in an appropriate amount of time. The risks of commanding and sailing on a submarine are substantial.

So, consider this: Several years ago, a submarine was being tested and had to remain submerged for many hours. When it returned to the harbor the captain was asked “How did the terrible storm last night affect you?” The officer appeared surprised and replied “Storm? We didn’t even know there was one!” You see, the submarine had been so far beneath the surface it had reached the area known to sailors as “the cushion of the sea” Although the ocean above had been whipped into huge waves by high winds, if you are beneath the cushion, the waters are never stirred.

I find this “cushion of the sea” to be fascinating. For people who were above the water—that storm, well, it was all they knew. So captivated were they by the looming thunderheads, the shriek and howl of the wind, torrential rain, high seas and lightening they assumed that everyone (on some level) must be experiencing the same as themselves. So, it was a shock to discover that the people dwelling in what was presumably the most risky of environments weren’t affected by the storm raging above them. Cushioned by the sea, the submarine was protected from the storm raging above. Somehow, in the most unlikely of places and unfriendly of environments to human habitation, peace reigned beneath as the thunderclouds crashed above.

The Gospel lesson for today tells us that as the disciples hid in a locked room in fear, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” It was then they realized the full truth of the message brought to them earlier by the women at the tomb.

I find myself wondering about the peace which the risen Lord bestowed upon the disciples. For those who heard it, the words of Jesus were far more than a customary greeting. The peace our Savior brought carried within it words of forgiveness. Think of it—here, Jesus is reconciling to himself the followers who had abandoned him at the cross. This is a remarkable moment. Many folks might think the most likely scenario (or, at least the scenario that makes the most sense, in the world in which we live) would be for Jesus to appear among his followers spend some time berating and blaming them for their lack of faith and courage and call for them to take up arms and rage against the injustice and cruelty of the world. Instead, he enters that locked room and comes with the purpose of bringing reconciliation and peace.

Notice this-—for it is important: Jesus doesn’t calm the storms raging outside of that room in the locked house. The Bible says nothing about Jesus working a miracle and changing the situation outside of those four walls. What he does is offer his followers peace in the midst of the storm. Think of it as a “cushion of peace”, so that the disciples could concentrate on the most important thing facing them—which, surprisingly, wasn’t keeping safe—but was instead, the great and glorious task of delivering the good news of the risen Christ to the ends of the earth: to their enemies, their friends and people they had yet to meet. Our Savior knew that for the disciples in that locked room, the real fear, the true disappointment that came with a crushing weight, wasn’t simply about the loss of Jesus, or the fear of Christ’s enemies; the real devastation was in their failure as his followers. Even if the external situation had been different—the internal disappointment, shame and failure would remain.

The kind of peace Jesus brings is the exact opposite of what many folks wish for when they ask for peace. When asking God for peace, many of us simply want for the storm raging about us to end, so that we can begin to live, or return to living in the manner in which we desire. In other words, we want the storms of the world to come to an end so that we can go on with our lives and that our world might return to normal. Exterior peace is what many folks want when they ask God for peace. Certainly, this is true for many of us—isn’t it. We want people to return to health—for COVID-19 to be but a distant memory in our collective past, for businesses to reopen, the unemployed to return to work, grocery store shelves to be full, children to return to school and for all of us to stop wearing uncomfortable face masks which fog up our glasses when we put them on. We want life to return to what it was.

Given our current situation it’s important for us to remember that this is not the kind of peace Jesus brings. I suspect, if asked, Jesus might suggest that exterior peace isn’t really peace at all—but merely an illusion. Think of it this way: God offers God’s self to us in the midst of the present dilemmas of life so that we, who live in faith and with hope, can carry on our calling on behalf of our risen Lord.

In our prayer for those who are to be baptized we ask God to bless them with purpose and with peace, and to be empowered with the gift of the Holy Spirit. We ask that they be taught to love others and sent into the world in witness to the love of God and finally brought to the fullness of God’s peace and glory in heaven. Nowhere, absolutely nowhere in these prayers do we ask that the followers of Christ be given an easy and stress-free life and to be protected from the vagrancies of fate.

What we ask for is that the peace of Christ be with us, so that we might be filled with strength to live out our calling in the broken world in which we live. We should not underestimate this peace. The peace which Jesus brings is like the “cushion of the sea”; so that we who are sheltered by the grace of God and encouraged by the Holy Spirit; can find a place of solace, comfort and strength that only our Savior can provide. This doesn’t stop the storms from raging about us; but it does give us the surety and the hope to carry on our calling so that we might live for Christ.

Finally, notice this—that Jesus comes to the disciples in that locked room. The Bible tells us that he seeks them out and finds them. He does this not only for the disciples in that locked room, later in today’s lesson, we are told he comes to Thomas as well. And Jesus does the same for us. Jesus comes to us in the troubled and frightening places of our lives, offering us both his presence and his indwelling Spirit, to sustain and encourage us so that we might find our true peace in God, a peace which the even the troubled storms in which we live cannot disturb. May this peace be with us always. In the name of the risen Lord. Alleluia. Amen.