And there went over a ferry boat to carry over the king's household, and to do what he thought good. (2 Samuel 19:18a)
This small piece of information comes to us after the death of Absalom, and King David has been invited back into his kingdom. The danger is over. The household of the King now comes to the Jordan and is ferried over to the other side, where David's kingdom lies. Jerusalem.
When we read these words, our imaginations quicken, and we picture not only the ferry going back and forth across the Jordan, carrying the royal family, but, if we are imaginative, we can see ourselves, at the end of this life, all our worries and troubles and cares behind us, waiting for passage to the other side, to the golden Kingdom. To heaven.
Myths exist about such a passage. The river is Acherong and the ferry boat driver is Charon, who usually is depicted as a skeleton wearing a flowing and shredded cloak. This is the passage across the river of death, and who knows what lay on the other side.
But as Christians we know what lay on the other side: everlasting life. Eternal relationship with our Lord, the creator of everything. We are still stuck on this side of the Jordan unless we take the ferry. This is a true metaphor: we have to get on the ferry. What is the ferry? Answers may differ. Jesus himself is an obvious answer. The cross is another. I've talked before about the cross being a sort of second ark that rescues us from the second flood--the eschaton: judgment day.
But what about the church? The church has gotten a bad rap these days. The phrase "organized religion" has become detestable. When we think of salvation, we think of individual salvation, as in, God saves each one of us. We transfer that knowledge into an idea that we don't need community. We don't need to be a member of a "people set apart." I have my personal relationship with God, and that is all that matters. That's also why we entertain the dubious idea of "deathbed salvation."
Jesus is our savior--yes. The cross was his vehicle, but the church is our vehicle. Perhaps you've heard the description of the yawning chasm that is ever present between us and God. As the story goes, we try and try to cross that chasm or to build a bridge across it, but we never can accomplish this. God himself must bridge the chasm, and he does so with the cross. It's a great metaphor, and many people have come to Christ through that metaphor, but the end result is the image of a bridge across the chasm in the shape of a cross, and we still individually--one at a time--cross over the bridge to the other side.
The ferry metaphor is more powerful. The ferry can be in the shape of a cross, yes, but it carries MANY across the river at the same time. The people on this ferry are the church, the bride of Christ, set apart. If we are living the Christian life alone, we may not be on the ferry at all but still on this side of the Jordan, trying to figure out a way across.
Jesus saves, yes. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the ONLY way, the ONLY truth, and the ONLY life. But he saves individuals within his church. He is the ferry man. We are his passengers. The church is the vessel across the Jordan.