The disciples stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The well-fed crowd of over five thousand still streamed past them. Jesus had fed them and was now sending them away.
One man nudged the other, "He said to cross the lake without Him?"
"Yes," his companion replied, "He will follow when the crowd has dispersed."
Another disciple had been a fisherman by trade. He could feel the imperceptible change in atmosphere, as the air grew heavier with change. "Are you sure? There is a storm coming soon, and the wind blows toward this shore. We wouldn't make it across before nightfall. We might not even leave shore."
All the others were already climbing into the boat. One of the others turned to the fisherman with a sneer, "He's the Rabbi! He wouldn't ask us to do anything foolish! As long as we do as He says, He will make sure it turns out all right."
Jesus raised His arm and waved at their departure. A few disciples waved back, unsure what the gesture meant.
Night came, and they were not even half a league from shore. The wind had picked up, blowing opposite the natural current, creating large, cresting waves. It took the skills of at least six of them combined to keep the boat from capsizing, let alone make any headway. Still, there was no sign of Jesus.
The fisherman sat firmly in the bottom of the boat; of course Rabbi Jesus would not come out in such a squall as this! He was too smart for that. Even though they were so close to shore, they wouldn't dare go back--what if this was a test from Jesus, and return meant failure? And yet they couldn't move forward, no matter how hard they pulled the oars or tried to manage the sail. Their only option was rote survival. Waves crashed over the side of the boat, drenching them with salt water to add to the misery of the rain falling on them. The boat bucked and shuddered with the force of the angry sea.
The fisherman's mind was full of the legends surrounding just such a situation: When all hope was lost, in the final moments just before a ship capsized, they would see the Angel of Death. Water was as land to the ghost, and when it came, every sailor who saw it would be compelled to follow it to the depths of Hell. Where was Rabbi Jesus? Had they assumed too much when they blindly climbed into the boat and disregarded every ounce of common sense as well as all of their vocational training? Why had they thought that the word of The Rabbi was Gospel-yoke, which they could harness to like oxen and follow Him and never come to harm? Here they were, in the middle of the furious Sea of Galillee, neither close at all to the destination where He had sent them, nor in any condition to perhaps signal Him and let Him know they were in trouble.
A bloodcurdling howl from the stern rent the air. Men were reduced to pathetic children one by one. They shouted and pointed, "Death! It is Death!"
The fisherman turned to see what they were pointing at; how could one see anything in this storm?
A figure in wet robes was walking toward them.
On the water.
The water is as land to the Angel of Death... No! The fisherman fought to tear his eyes away, but the image had burned itself into his mind. This cannot be happening! No! Curse you, Death! I will not go! Rabbi Jesus was too late! He had sent them off to die! What had they done to deserve such a fate?
The figure was closer now; it did look very much like a man--but angels had taken such a form in the past; the fact remained that they were not men. One glance over each shoulder, and the fisherman knew that every man in the boat could see the angel. They were all going to die; there was no other outcome. The ship still tossed, but they had lost the will to fight or steer. Every eye was fixed upon the figure.
The Death Ghost smiled at them. It raised a human-like hand, and in a voice that seemed to overwhelm the wind and the rain and the crash of the waves, it spoke words that no legend had ever attributed to the Ghost of Death.
"Take heart! It is I; do not be afraid."
No one moved a muscle. They sat as men already dead, watching the figure grip the side of the boat and step inside as one embarking from the shore. The fisherman blinked. His body rocked--but the boat was still. Moisture hung in the air, but it was no longer torrential rain. His ears rang from the sudden silence of the calm. The fisherman turned his head.
Rabbi Jesus was with them in the boat.