Peril on the sea

Hurricane Joaquin hit the cargo ship El Faro near the Bahamas this week. The captain of the ship had planned to skirt the storm, but mechanical failure left them adrift in the path of the storm.

Reports say that there were 33 people on board and they are now presumed drowned. Coastguards have found wreckage, life boats and at least one body.

We didn’t need that reminder of how dangerous the sea can be, as we hear almost every week of those fleeing from Syria or Northern Africa, paying huge sums to smugglers for a place in overcrowded boats. These boats are totally unsuited for crossing the Mediterranean. Too many people are crammed into small, unsafe boats with few lifebelts, resulting in over 1600 people dying from drowning this year alone. Many thousands perish because the sea is a hazardous place. Ships and boats are no sure protection against the elements.

It is no wonder the Psalmist describes the waves mounting up to the heavens and going down to the depths. Sailors reeled and staggered, like drunken men. Their courage melted away in their evil plight. The hymn that means most to the naval community and seafarers is ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ and the prayer it contains, 'for those in peril on the sea’.

The Book of Revelation is hard to understand. It has so many metaphors, but it is clear that when the end of the world as we know it comes, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Then, it adds, ‘the sea will be no more’. That place of threat and potential destruction to both humanity, and to the towns and cities we build on the shoreline, will be no more.

The hymn that means most to the naval community and seafarers is ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ and the prayer it contains, 'for those in peril on the sea’.

The disciples knew the power of the sea. They were out in a boat on Galilee crossing the lake when Jesus fell asleep. A windstorm arose, the boat was filling with water and they were in danger. They woke Jesus saying, ‘Master, we are perishing!’ Then Jesus famously rebuked the wind and the raging waves and they ceased. There was calm as Jesus stilled the storm.

There is no pretence that the sea is not a dangerous place. It has power to destroy. Jesus, the Son of God the Eternal Father, is the maker of and ultimately has final power over the sea. Like all the good things that God made and gave us, we can fail to use them properly and be careless of the dangers they pose.

The sea is a source of livelihood for merchant shipping and brings us much of what we need from abroad. It is a source of pleasure for those who enjoy sailing, or travelling and cruising. For refugees, it is a barrier to be crossed and overcome to escape one life. At the end of the journey, there is hope of a new beginning and a new life. But journeys can be dangerous.

We are challenged to ask where we place our faith and hope. We cannot escape from threats to life and limb or from death itself. Drowning is always a risk with water, but we can put our trust in the One who is strong to bring us eternal safety, whether on the sea or the land.

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