all at sea

John 6:1-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they[c] sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Holiday time. There’s a certain attraction to taking a holiday by the seaside. The fresh sea air. The sound of seagulls overhead. Fish and chips on the prom. Penny slot machines. Penny slot machines? Wasn’t that the 70’s? Showing my age! I grew up close to the sea. Being close to the water is important to me.

Holidays are, quite literally, ‘holy days’. Traditionally most of our holidays have coincided with holy seasons – Christmas, Easter, Whitsun (Pentecost). Likewise the events of John 6 take place during a Jewish holy season – Passover. ‘Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.’ (John 6: 4).

The Feast of Passover is the Jewish festival of freedom, commemorating as it does the exodus from captivity in Egypt of the Hebrew people, following after the promise of a homeland for the People of God.

One way of reading the Old Testament is to do so ‘typologically’ – whereby ‘events, persons, or statements in the Old Testament are seen as types pre-figuring or superseded by antitypes, events or aspects of Christ or his revelation described in the New Testament’.

Jesus is both the means of pass-over (from spiritual captivity to spiritual freedom) as well Himself being the em-body-ment of the Passover. Interestingly the urdu word savera mentioned by Annette last Sunday (meaning ‘dawn’, ‘new day’, ‘new beginning’), is related to the term and title Saviour.

In the original Passover story Moses leads the People of God across the Red Sea into the wilderness, where they spend forty years wandering. During the time of wandering the people suffer hunger. God responds by providing Manna – bread from heaven. In the Feeding of the Five Thousand (John 6: 1-14) the people are once again fed with supernaturally produced bread, a miracle that points to Jesus as the ‘Bread of Life’

“I am the Bread of life” – Jesus, John 6: 35.

So to the sea and to the miracle of Jesus walking on the water (John 16: 21). Jesus didn’t walk on water simply because He could. It isn’t a random act. There’s a point to it. A ‘Passover Point’.

The sea attracts us. It also commands our respect. Historically the Hebrew people were sea-fearers, not seafarers. They “didn’t like the sea that much” (Tom Wright). The Hebrew scriptures (OT) depicts the ocean as a fearful place, full of sea monsters and other dangers. Its highly likely that Jesus’ disciples were wary of the waters.

Jesus had withdrawn to a high place to pray. The disciples decide to cross the lake. A storm is brewing. Suddenly they see Jesus walking towards them on the waters. And they are terrified.

Jesus is our Passover. Where Moses led the people through the Red Sea, Jesus helps us to rise above the stormy waters of life. We all need freeing from spiritual captivity. Sometimes it feels as if there is a vast chasm between us and God, filled with restless waters. Jesus promises, in word and deed, that as we put our trust in Him, He will help us to rise above the waves.


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Keith Hitchman, Vicar

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