Summary: How Noah’s Ark points forward to the Church as the sphere of God’s covenanted grace.
Second Sunday after Trinity, 2009
Text: Gen. 6:5-8; 13-22
The Rev. Jerry Kistler
St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church
“The Ark of our Salvation”
"And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life… But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark.”
Two ships. Two ships captivate our imagination like no others. One has become the symbol of the destruction that follows when the sin of man’s pride is unleashed; the other is an ancient symbol of the instrument of salvation that carries us safely through the destruction when God’s wrath is unleashed on sin. Two ships: Titanic and Noah’s ark. Both are the story of a surprise flood and a great ship.
Life was going on just as everybody expected. People assumed they would simply go on eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage. The future promised only smooth sailing. The rich enjoyed their power and privileges over the poor, and when the moment of truth arrived, violence revealed the heart of man: every man was for himself. Then in a moment of awful surprise, terrible events took place, and suddenly the panicked crowds were scrambling for the highest peak to escape the drowning flood.
There are some amazing parallels, aren’t there? For both Titanic and Noah’s ark, life was in the ship. Outside the ship was only certain death. And yet the crowds went about their daily business totally taking for granted that their lives were completely tied to the ship. The one crowd trusted that Man’s ship was unsinkable; the other crowd thought God’s ship was unnecessary. And so for taking the ship for granted, only a few were saved.
The ark was one of the earliest Christian symbols for the Church, reminding us that it is in the Church that God saves us through the deep sea of death. And yet who really trusts that life is in this ship… in this ship alone? How many of us take for granted that our salvation is completely tied to our membership in the Church? How many of us take for granted that it is the one and only God-ordained instrument for bringing us safely through the sea of death? Is that making too great a claim for the Church? Is putting our faith in the Church not like putting our faith in the unsinkability of the manmade ship? Some would have us believe so. Well let me ask you this: Do you think Noah trusted that it was the ark itself, the work of his own hands, that would save him? Of course not. Noah trusted in the God who called him and his whole family to enter the ark, and sealed them in with his own hand. But the ark was still essential. God saved them in and by the means of the ark. Noah wasn’t given the option to trust God to save him outside of the ark.
God said to Noah, “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark.” Life is in this ship and not outside of it because, like the ark, the Church is the sphere of God’s covenanted grace. It’s the ship that bears His promise that, if you remain onboard, you will never sink into the waters of judgment.
In the ancient depictions, the cross stands inside of the ark as the mast of the ship. The cross of Christ is inside God’s ship. It can’t be found in man’s ship. The cross once stood outside the old city, but now it stands inside the walls of the new city, the New Jerusalem. For “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,… to the general assembly and church of the firstborn… to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” The sacrificial animals were carried onboard the ark. So the sacrifice of Christ is to be found inside the Church for all those whom God has sealed into His covenant.
A person is sealed into the covenant, sealed into the saving grace of the cross, through water. It’s the apostle Peter himself who brings out this typology of the ark – the ark “in which,” he says, “a few, that is eight souls, were saved through water.” That was the type. “There is also an antitype,” he says. There is something this points forward to: baptism – baptism “which now saves us.” (St. Peter’s own words). Baptism, which brings us safely through the waters of death, safely through the judgment of God into the ark of salvation “by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ” (again St. Peter’s own words). Baptism is no magical rite. It only “works” because God appointed it as his means of bringing us out of the sphere of judgment in to the sphere of his grace.