Reflection for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Sea Sunday.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus, in today’s Gospel Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.
‘Sunset and evening star and one clear call for me! And may there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea.’ From Tennyson’s poem ‘Crossing the Bar’.
Today is Sea Sunday and it might seem strange to be celebrating it in this landlocked place but all of us are more dependent on seafarers than perhaps we realise. Over 1.5 million seafarers transport over 90% of the world’s goods and, when the various navies, and rescue services are taken into account, our daily lives and the economy are affected by people we don’t know and of whom we are largely unaware. Their lives, and those of their families, can be adversely affected by the conditions in which they work as they are often away from home for long periods of time – sometimes up to a year – which can create feelings of loneliness and depression. Shore leave was often not possible during the pandemic and increasing costs can mean that fewer crew members are employed and have to work longer hours, which can lead to fatigue. It’s important to remember them, especially when supply issues have been a factor recently, with consequences for producers and seafarers as well as consumers.
Nowadays, huge container ships and enormous naval vessels are capable of great enterprises but, in the time of Jesus, the small wooden boats he would have known nevertheless helped to convey the Gospel to all parts of the world. There are many stories of Jesus using boats and dealing with the weather as well as the missionary voyages of Paul being mapped in the Acts of the Apostles. They were not always straightforward and there are Biblical accounts of disagreements such as that between Paul and Barnabas, who eventually separated and took the Gospel in different directions. They wouldn’t have been sailing for long compared to modern seafarers and so the work of chaplains in the ports today can be very important for welfare concerns.
One example of this is of a ship recently arriving in North East England with 22 seafarers aboard. When a team visited from the Roman Catholic welfare charity Stella Maris, it was clear that all was not well and their report reads: “It transpired that the crew was under huge mental and physical strain. One confided that, during the voyage to Teesport from the USA, he had only been getting two hours sleep a night because he was so stressed and overworked. He was also concerned that the crew were no longer able to operate the vessels safely as they were all exhausted.” Stella Maris Sea Sunday.
The relevant authorities were notified by Stella Maris and a vessel detention notice was served, so that seafarers could go ashore to recover and 11 were later repatriated. The rest of which Jesus spoke for those who are burdened was provided in his name by the team checking the welfare of those seafarers and it’s a reminder that the cost of our goods and supplies is even greater than we sometimes realise.
The church where I served after ordination had a Rector who owned a narrow boat and he arranged to butty it up with a barge to take the youth group away for a week on the canals. The only person who fell in during the whole time was me and, as my feet touched the slimy mud at the bottom and the filthy waters came up to my neck, I knew that I was dependent on someone else rescuing me as I couldn’t do it myself. What was so disconcerting was the prolonged laughter of all aboard but I was eventually pulled into the barge by those aboard and all was well. When it was time for me to move later on, the Rector reported to the Bishop that my curacy had been successful in all aspects – except seamanship!
He was joking, but every church is also a boat, an ark of salvation where safe passage is offered through the storms of life with Jesus at the helm and the worshippers as the crew – or, sometimes, mutineers! The congregation sits in the nave from the Latin word navis for boat and there are times for all of us when we’ll be dependent on others for our rescue or welfare – and they on us. Perhaps the words of Tennyson’s poem about the voyage we’ll all have to make when crossing from this world to the next are relevant for those who come to mind this Sea Sunday:
“For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place the flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face when I have crost the bar.” Crossing the Bar.
With my prayers; pob bendith
Christine, Priest Guardian.