This image has been in the news recently, and it has gripped me. Thirty years ago, Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee was stolen from Boston’s Gardner Museum in the largest art heist in U.S. history.  But today, what I find most interesting is the peaceful image of Jesus in the back of the boat.

You know the story well, and you’ve probably even taught on that Mark 4 passage. Yet now, in the midst of a virus-driven storm of fear, that story (and this painting) are more profound than usual.

These last few weeks, you have been living in the same COVID-19 chaos as everyone else, while also having to scramble to care for congregants, students and team members, disrupted services and classes, disinfectant protocols and online logistics. And still, you will stand up in that boat in the midst of the waves of uncertainty, anxiety and even sadness, representing Christ for so many who are looking to God for comfort and guidance.

Fortunately, your journey to thrive in Christ results in you becoming more like Christ, which means that you, like Christ, can be a calming presence in the middle of an unsettling situation.

As is our practice in Thrive in Five, let’s consider five realities from this story, expressed by Rembrandt’s brush, that can help us and those for whom we care, to thrive through this coronavirus storm.

1. Everyone reacts differently. You can see a variety of reactions depicted in the disciples on this canvas. There are disciples drawing closer to Jesus, some overcome with anxiety and nausea, others looking down in denial. Another with a hand on his head in shock. And a group in the bow grabbing the ropes and rudder, doing their best not to go under. And — like the disciples — each person you encounter will react to this pandemic with just as much variety. How might you offer comfort and wisdom that meets people where they are?

2. Wrestling with the sails won’t stop the storm. Tending to the sails, manning the oars and battening down the hatches all matter. Washing our hands, social distancing and self-quarantine will make a difference. We should do those things. But it won’t stop waves from crashing over the sides and taking a toll on lives. Even while doing our best, we may still have to face the worst. What advice will you give to help your congregation prepare both their bodies and spirits for what lies ahead?

3. Being close to Christ radiates Christ. Like those few who are closest to Jesus in the back of the boat, your intimacy with him matters. His divine presence can make you a non-anxious presence with supernatural impact. For some, that will make the difference between swimming and sinking into the waves of tension, fear and uncertainty caused by this coronavirus crisis. In what ways can you draw closer to Christ, so you impact others like Christ?

4. The storm always ends. Just as we know this boat makes it ashore, we know there is an immediate future with some relief and a long recovery to smooth sailing.  Because no storm lasts forever. We will get to the other side of the lake to a new normal, even though we will face more personal and public storms in the future. But the knowledge that all of us are in the boat with Jesus brings a hope that builds strength and perseverance. Where is the right balance of empathy and hope for those in your care?

5. Jesus can still calm the waves. God can stop the storm. He can and will do supernatural things we can’t explain. But whether you experience a miracle or not, Jesus can still calm the waves. He can calm the waves of fear and anxiety.  He can smooth a sea of uncertainty and unknown futures. And he can settle the winds of grief and sadness. He will be with us, is already at work within us and invites us to partner with him until more and more people move closer to him in the back of the boat. How can you reveal your faith in God so others experience the calming power of Jesus?

May your Christ-like presence with your community and your colleagues bring the peace and perspective that people need most.

-Russ Gunsalus


Special edition contributor: Rev. Russ Gunsalus, executive director, Education & Clergy Development 
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle