All in the same boat? – 11 May 2020
Far at sea, a number of boats are caught in a storm. The sea is frothy and dangerous, the wind is blowing hard. Everyone we can see is caught in the same storm, but not everyone is in the same boat
In the distance there is a ship, sailing well, very little affected by the circumstances. In the foreground there is a ship in trouble. The mast has broken and the sail collapsing. One man clings to the mast for safety, others raise their hands, faces and voices crying out for help. One man (in pink) who has been struggling alone in a small rowing boat and is now exhausted, is being hauled into the ship for safety. Will he be safe among this larger company?
The company in distress are being guided by God through the ministry of St Nicholas, the patron saint of seafarers. St Nicholas is dressed as the bishop that he was, his hand on the crow’s nest as he steers the ship home to safety.
The metaphor of storms and chaos runs through scripture. Where there is fear and disruption, God creates order and calms the storm. In our present circumstances it has been said that we are ‘all in the same boat’, but this is clearly not true. Some face situations including significantly more disruption than others. St Nicholas, here, stands for a church which remembers and serves those most in distress.
The picture is a medieval illustration by the Limbourg brothers, from the book of hours, Les Belles Heures, which they created for Jean, Duc de Berry, at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Herman, Paul and Johan Limbourg produced two outstanding books for the Duc, the other being the Très Riches Heures.The Limbourgs (who were in their twenties) and the Duc de Berry (aged 75), all died in an outbreak of plague in 1416.
Leaving the crowd behind, the disciples took Jesus along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
O Trinity of love and pow’r,
Thy children shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire, and foe,
Protect them where-so-e’er they go;
Thus, evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.
William Whiting, ‘Eternal Father, strong to save’