I remember the first time I saw the ocean. I was in Corpus Christi, Texas looking out at the rolling waves the color of the sky. From where I was standing on the beach there were grey-blue waves surrounding me on either side and rolling waves as far as my eye could see all the way to the horizon line and beyond. I imagined who might live on the other side of that vast blue-grey gulf, what they were like, who they might be and how, if I was simply left there by the water, I would ever be able to bridge that big blue between us.
For the ancients writing the Old Testament of our Bibles thousands and thousands of years ago, the ocean represented for them the threat of Chaos and destruction, of power that was uncontrollable and deadly. Large bodies of water were the home of the evil serpent Leviathan and the water was what separated the Israelites as they fled from Egypt to the promised land. The Sea represented for the ancient Israelites in their writings the chaos caused by sin and rebellion against God, a terrifying gulf that embodies the gap that exists between God and humans and between humans and each other and between all of creation.
In my country the threat of the ocean sometimes seems distant, lulled into a sense of safety and a, “that could never happen to me” thought, because of all of our modern conveniences: power boats, life jackets and swimming pools, but still even with all of that, in the US ten people die from unintentional drowning each and every day and we just read the tragic story of 500 refugees believed drowned when their boat capsized. When we want to span that gulf that exists between us and those that live on the other side of the big blue, even with our modern tools, planes and boats, it still takes an enormous effort to get from one side to the other, a bunch of money, that is something that we don’t do very often, if at all.
That image of standing on one side of the big blue and say, someone who loves you deeply on the other side, with no way of reaching each other, separated by that vast ocean gives to us a taste of the separation between us and God. What separates us from God is not only about behavior, that we think sometimes that if I am say good enough I can span that gap and earn paradise. But it goes deeper to our very nature as created beings. In being created we were made good, that is good as in how God intended us to be, to be people who can receive God’s love, respond to that love and share that love, but we are not perfect, the only perfect and eternal one is God, everything else is created. To be perfect is to be without the capability of blemish or doubt, but only God is capable of that, we are not God, we are different, we are created, created to live in perfect harmony with God who loves us but also, in that being created we are free and able to go astray from that which is good.
Not only is their a gap between us and God on the basis of our very nature as created beings, but in that freedom to go away from what is good which is God, we use it create a distance from who God is. Our hearts wander away to other gods and make them more important than the true God. Our wandering hearts lead to wandering minds and words and actions, whose outward behavior is an expression of the wandering, broken spirit inside of us. Our own actions condemn us and show us that vast gulf between us and God: even our best actions that are tainted with mixed motivations and selfishness to our actions that our the very worst that humanity can do, all pale in comparison to what it means to be perfectly good from eternity.
Saying I can go back to God, or earn paradise, simply be good enough to miss out on hell, or any of the variations on that theme is like saying I can tie two sticks together and I’ll use that as a boat to China, such is the absolute hopelessness of our situation when it comes to being with God. We have to let that sink in, to let all illusions and self-deceptions about our own abilities and our own goodness fall to the wayside and utterly admit how lost we are looking across the big blue.
So, if there is nothing in the created order that can bring us to a relationship with God then it must come from outside of us to bridge the gap, it must come from outside of creation, it must come from the Creator. I wonder, how else the Creator would come to us, but in the shape, form and likeness of us, both fully human and fully God, both able to bridge the gap as God and able to hold our hand as man and bring us across with Him. Jesus is God who comes to us to bring us to Him.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
This reading from the Book of Revelation points to the day when there will be no more sea, no more ocean, no more distance between God and His creation, but God himself will come down and dwell within His creation and sustain it with His eternal presence. Notice all of it is God coming down to us, to His creation, to dwell in His creation and renew it, never us going to God.
But until that day when the sea is no more, God has bridged the gap between us and Him in Jesus and in faith we have received that blessing, but the gap still exists between us. That is why it still always feels like a struggle, how doubts creep in, and sin which is the manifestations of that separation from God, constantly annoy us, because that distance is still there in this life. That is why the Christian life is one that filled with being in the places where God has promised to be, where the gap has been bridged and the distance crossed. God crosses that distance to you in His Words, first written in Scripture and then spoken to you, He bridges the gap in Holy Baptism where the promise is given in His Body and Blood that we will receive today, where He comes to sit at the dinner table with you, feed you and strengthen you for life on this side of the water.
This side of the water also has it’s distances between you and me, between husband and wife, child and parent, friends, family, lovers, strangers, part of a church family. How can we ever get past this distance, when we as well come from so many different places, different ideas, different hopes and dreams, thoughts and backgrounds, how can we ever hope to be as Jesus prayed for us to be “one as He and the Father are one?” Again, in the created order, there is no way to do this, it must come from outside of creation, from God the Creator found in Jesus Christ to make us one.
If we try to find that unity in any other place, even our worship styles, music, commonalities, preferences, hobbies, political leanings or anything else, we will fail at it and get all clique like, clustering in groups of like-minded people. But the unity God has called us to goes way beyond that, beyond groups and commonalities but comes only from the fellowship we have in Jesus Christ who bridges us to God and brings us together. In the midst of everything that separates us from God and from each other, it is Jesus alone that makes us one.