|By Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons|
Isn't this picture hauntingly beautiful? It's nicknamed the Ghost Nebula and you can easily see why. There is a mysterious, brownish luminescence in the ghostly shapes of the cosmic dust clouds that create an otherworldly appearance, and on the left there seem to be human-like figures with arms raised as they drift through the starry expanse of the night sky.
Perfect for a night on which (according to pagan Celtic beliefs and folklore) the curtain dividing the living and the dead was supposed to lift allowing the spirits of the dead to walk among the living as ghosts haunting the earth. Eery to say the least. Enough to send a few shivers down my spine...
So, I'll ask - have you ever seen a ghost?
Jesus' disciples thought they did. But let me start the story at the beginning.
It was a dark and stormy night! (Matt 14:22-27; Mark 6:45-50) Very dark - sometime between 3am and 6am. And very stormy - the wind was blowing fiercely and the waves were buffeting the boat. The disciples were on their own and a considerable distance from land. I doubt they were getting much sleep. Actually, they were straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Cold, exhausted and alone... while Jesus was back on shore having a prayer retreat by himself up in the hills overlooking the lake.
Cold and exhausted, yes. But neither Matthew nor Mark mention anything about the disciples being scared... yet. Until... until they catch sight of something moving on the surface of the lake! Something, or someone? It's a human figure - walking on the water - and it's coming towards them.
How they manage to see a figure approaching the boat in the darkness I am not sure, perhaps it was glowing softly, but they all can, and they are terrified. After all, it couldn't be human - humans can't walk on water - it must be something sinister, and supernatural, like a ghost! The storm is mentioned as no more than an afterthought and we almost forget that it is raging on in the background. All their eyes are fixated on the ghostly figure, and their hearts are gripped with fear and terror.
the terror of the moment passes
and the apparition speaks in a voice that is strangely familiar...
‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
Then they know... they know that voice! It's Him... Jesus! It's not a ghost at all! They don't have to be afraid.
I believe that Jesus still speaks these words to us today. No matter what our circumstances or what we may be terrified by we need to see that the One Person who can bring peace amidst the storm and instil courage where there is paralysing fear is here, with us.
See that Jesus is real: "It is I."
Listen when he tells you, "Don't be afraid."
"Take courage!" he's not a ghost. Instead he reminds us:
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.(John 16:33)