In Acts 27 there is a rather lengthy story about a shipwreck. Luke is the presumed writer of the book of Acts and he goes in much detail about the length of the storm—which was called a Euroclydon—similar to what we would call a cyclone and the size of the ship—holding 276 persons. Most of the pictures we have of the boats in the New Testament tend to be small fishing boats that would hold just a few men---but this is quite a large sea-going vessel. The narrative is dramatic and the way it is written you can “feel” yourself in the story, kind of like being on the edge of your seat.
Near the end of the drama we find the ship in the terror of the storm at night. But alas, there was finally a sense among the sailors that land was drawing near. Luke records “….about midnight the sailors sensed that they were drawing near to some land.” (Acts 27:27) They did some measuring and they were accurate. The record states “Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors….”. (Acts 27:29)
It is no secret that we have been in the storm of the corona virus for going on 18 months now. The winds and the rain have beat upon us and there has been much despair, fear, and anxiety. The news is 24/7 and opinions bombard the public daily. Even though there are some rays of hope---we do not seem to be through this storm---we are likely to have difficult days ahead.
What are Christians to do? How are we to respond? How are we to live?
This September, instead of having our regular Homecoming Services---we changed things a little and we are calling our gathering “Anchor Sunday”. The ship story in Acts 27 says the battered ship dropped four anchors—in order to steady the vessel and wait for what was ahead. The story begs the question—what are “four anchors” that is holding our lives, our “ship” steady in the middle of the storm?
I think we have four anchors described to us in the early chapters of Acts. Acts 2:42 says the early disciples “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” First, the early church didn’t have Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John at that time, but their devotion to scripture was clear. Now, for believers all over the world, the four gospels and all of God’s Word are a solid anchor for our ships! Martin Luther, the great reformer, pens this truth in his triumphant hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God….selected verses include:
“And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us….one little
Word shall fell him. That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth…”
Luther knew the strength of God’s Word that anchored souls in the fiercest of storms. Sadly, there is a diminishing of this Word in today’s world—and even in today’s church. We have allowed the sacred word to become small and insignificant—but the holiness of its print shouts triumph in the heavens. John the Revelator said he “wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it….but one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has prevailed to open the scroll….” (Rev. 5:4,5)
Second, it is interesting to note that in the shipwreck story of Acts 27 there is a strong sense of community (fellowship?) that is recorded. Luke records the total (276) but also that there were all kinds of classes of individuals on the boat---sailors, dignitaries, prisoners, etc. The Apostle Paul was right in the midst of the chaos and he shared a promise of safety for all, “I urge youto take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.” When a soldier and his/her troop is in battle---all those soldiers tend to bond for life. On a lighter side—in most team sports---teammates also tend to bond for life—why? It’s because they have been united together in the storm, the battle, the quest for victory. This is an anchor that will keep our ship steady. Friends, we do need each other, especially now.
Third, the early church had a great emphasis on prayer. Luke records in the ship story during the fiercest time, after they lowered the four anchors, “they prayed for day to come.” (Acts 27:29) Seems like an all-night prayer vigil!! On a much smaller scale, I’m reminded of those times as a boy being sick in the night—with stomach aches, fever or something similar. Normally, I would relish sleep as a young child, but when you are tossing and turning with sickness—the night seemed to take forever! I kept asking myself, “when will morning come?” The Psalmist says something similar when he spoke of the watchman at his post during the night hours, “My soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning, yes, more than those who watch for the morning." (Psalm 130:6) The night of the shipwreck I imagine there were a lot of men praying desperately for “day to come.” Someone quipped “A day hemmed in prayer is less likely tocome unraveled.” If there is ever an anchor needed to steady our ships in these unsettling times, it is the anchor of prayer.
Fourth, the early church is said to have been together in the “breaking of bread”. The scholars are divided on exactly what “breaking of bread” meant. Was this simply having lunch together? The ship story talks about the passengers not eating---they had a “long abstinence from food” (Acts 27:21). Likely this is because there is simply not much of an appetite for the stomach when the boat is tossing and turning! But near the end of the storm Paul “took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it, he began to eat. They were all encouraged, and also took food themselves.” (Acts 27:35,36)
It is likely this is meal for physical nourishment. But there are strong similarities that the Sacrament of Communion also taking place. Perhaps Luke is suggesting both? There is the mysterious meal on the Emmaus road where our Lord “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” (Luke 24:30) Again, the meal appears to be a meal for physical nourishment, but the language is highly sacramental. Church, another anchor for our troubled ships is the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It is not meant to be routine ritual that is done different parts of the year. Friends, in its mystery, Christ’s presence is given to us, strengthening us, anchoring us like nothing this world can offer.
They dropped four anchors to steady the boat through the worst of times---may we find four anchors (plus more) for steadying ours!
With you, in Christ,