I still remember it like a waking dream. A strange day (it isn’t every day that you see thousands of people fed from one lunch basket of food) followed by an even stranger night. If it were not for the very prosaic experience of ending up wet and cold, I would think that I had imagined the whole sequence of events. For they were anything but prosaic.
We were surprisingly tired that evening. Organising a crowd, distributing food to them so that everyone was included and then gathering up the leftovers (yes, crowds make a mess, but how do you get twelve baskets of leftovers from one basket of food???) took more energy than we would have expected. And it was a rough night to take the boat out; the wind kept trying to blow it back towards the shore. That’s hard work by anybody’s reckoning!
But take the boat out we did, because the Master had told us to, and after seeing that miraculous feast, which for some reason brought to mind the story Moses tells, when seventy elders of Israel went up Mount Sinai and ate and drank with the Lord, we were in no mood to argue with anything he suggested.
He himself had gone up the mountain to pray, as he did now and again, though what he prayed for was beyond our comprehension! We had no idea when he would re-join us, but we certainly didn’t expect what happened next. It was sometime in the deepest hour of the night, a while before the first stirrings of dawn, when we thought we saw something (someone?) approaching on the surface of the water. At first we didn’t believe it, with the wind and the waves and our sleepless night we rubbed our eyes and looked again: “can you see that?” we asked one another.
After a few minutes, as the figure grew closer, our doubts were vanquished, but gave way to fear. “Is it a ghost?” we were now asking. And as the wind rose, and the waves slapped hard against the side of the boat, we, grown men that we were, were trembling.
But then the Master’s own voice called out across the water, “Don’t be afraid! It is I!”
At the sound of his voice my fear was transmuted to something else, a wild longing to be with him, though all the waves of the world should rage between us. “Master,” I cried out, without stopping to consider what I was proposing, “if it really is you, bid me come to you on the water!”
He did and I came, for one impossible minute, as if entering another world, I, Simon Peter, just another low-born Galilean fisherman, walked on the waves just as Jesus did. With my eyes fixed on him I did what could not be done. Then I realised that this was an impossibility, turned my eyes to the waves around me, and started to sink. The cold, cold water froze my bones like terror. But before I could do more than cry out, “Lord save me!” he was by my side, lifting me from danger.
“Why did you doubt?” he asked me. It will take me all my life to know the answer.