In terms of distance, it was probably the shortest journey he had ever taken since the time he first learned how to walk. But the distance was the least important part, except as a cause to marvel that he ever covered any distance at all. Nor was it so very life-changing at the time, though later, when he looked back, it assumed tremendous significance, because then he understood both the big picture and the intimate wonder of it all. Of course there had been emotion at the time – how could there not be? – but life was full of peril, accident and adventure, and living in the emotions of each moment he had not stopped to ponder the meaning. Passive reflection had never been his style, anyway. He knew, from one of those odd, momentary vignettes that take hold of the memory, that he had been wiping his wet face afterwards, but he could not have said whether it was the rain, or his tears, or just the wild spray of the storm-tossed lake. But there was emotion enough now, in the recollection ..
By any normal reckoning, the whole scenario was preposterous. There they were, out in the boat in a raging storm, in the exhausting pre-dawn darkness, where they would never have gone at all without the Master’s express orders. They had no idea what was going on, and no energy to speculate, it was taking all their strength to row against the strong pull of the waves. And then … In the confusion of the moment he had never been sure who had been the first to see .. there was that figure, oddly luminous in the fitful storm-light, walking across the top of the water. There wasn’t much that could distract a bunch of experienced fishermen in the middle of a storm, but this succeeded:
‘Are my eyes playing ticks?’ Look – over there ..’ ‘What is it?’ ‘I can’t see .. oh, yes, now I can.’ It’s coming closer!’ ‘Is it .. a ghost?’
It was only when Jesus called out reassurance that they knew who it was. Why he was walking across the storm-crazed waters was another matter altogether, but not one Peter was even thinking of at the time. Instead, asking permission, before he even stopped to think about it, he was there, out of the boat and on top of the water, doing the totally impossible. It was the shortest journey he ever walked. Just a few steps, glorious, impossible steps, and then he realized that this could not be happening, and, gazing at the wild waves all about him, he took his eyes off Jesus, his courage failed, and he was sinking in the waves, just like he would have expected to at any normal time.
But the waves did not close over him; that was not his journey’s end. Instead, even as he cried out for help, the strong hand of God took hold of him, and he was held secure by his Master in the midst of the storm. At the time it was a matter for wonder and worship; but now, looking back, he knew it was even more. He had stepped out of the boat and walked into a living parable, and the truth at the heart of it would sustain him all his days. For he knew now, in that heart-deep place where doubt has no penetration, that this is what his ultimate journey’s end would also be. He would step out into the raging chaos of death, and this same Jesus, in love immeasurable, would already have hold of him, and would carry him to safety, and into glory beyond his power to imagine. And that would be the greatest journey of all.