2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
I had a long drive to make early last week and thought I would get a head start on thinking, at least, about the readings for today. And what leapt into my mind was images. I became more and more struck how images drive my understanding of God’s story of salvation that we find in Holy Scripture which fly out of the Bible and into our lives in various ways. Of course, it began with the image of Elijah being swept up into heaven by the flaming chariot and Jesus, transfigured on the mountain and shining like the sun. As I continued to muse about the images throughout Holy Writ my mind drifted back to Paul’s phrase, “the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Jesus, God’s most creative and imaginative action in the world ever, brings God out of mystical otherness, in a way, and offers God’s very heart to us, the essence and reality of God, in its most loving and powerful expression. And if we can begin to see the image of Christ in ourselves, that we are children of God by the sacrifice and action of Jesus, then perhaps we can open our lives up to the possibility of truly seeing that same image of Jesus in each other. And when we see Jesus in the other then all the challenges that we face in connecting with one another begin to fade and crumble and we are left with each other, fellow creatures of the divine image of God in Christ.
Images of the Bible really are where our understanding of God’s salvation begins. Images drive our thinking, our feeling, and our connectivity with the God who made and loves us. I will give you a poor example, possibly, to get us started. When I was a boy, I remember those big illustrated children’s Bibles; you still see them laying around sometimes, but when I was a kid, no doctor’s waiting room was without one. And they began with an illustration of the Creation that may have been Adam and Eve, naked but discreetly covered by the foliage around them, with perhaps the always put-upon Eve offering a piece of fruit to Adam (an apple naturally; don’t guess they had any peaches in Eden). A serpent could be seen emerging from the greenery in the background, tongue hissing slyly. That is the image that many of us have of creation and Eden, no matter what else we may remember from the story. It is a powerful image of not just creative life, it conveys much more. Creation, the fall, etc.
And we could name dozens and dozens of images like these: Noah and the ark; Abraham and the binding of Isaac; Jacob wrestling with the angel; Jonah and the whale; Moses parting the Red Sea; Moses with the Ten Commandments; the fall of Jericho under the blast of trumpets … and so much more. And with the Advent of Jesus, we see the image of the Nativity which is not one image but many. We see Jesus’ miracles, the water transformed into wine, the raising of Lazarus; we glimpse the last supper, Jesus in Gethsemane, Jesus before Pilate, Jesus and His cross, Jesus crucified, Jesus being taken down from the Cross, Jesus being laid in the tomb, Jesus and the Resurrection and all its many stories … and so forth and so on.
What I am after here is that the images of Scripture communicate through their powerful stories, seemingly haphazard but all pointing us toward our salvation by God; pointing to the glory of Jesus, who, as Paul says, is the image of God. Jesus is God’s crowning, final act of imagination; God’s creative love and power come among us to save us from our sin, our sorrow, and ourselves. The image of Jesus is One of a savior, a redeemer, and a healer and teacher but, as we have said before, the healings from demonic possession and sickness were acts of love that would lead us to His real action of love at Calvary. The image of Jesus transfigured on a mountain is a powerful one today because it prefigures how He will be changed by the Cross and Resurrection and how we will be transformed, too, as a result of God’s willingness to bless us and redeem us. Jesus is the glory of God, more than an image, a reality that saves, blesses, and gathers us to the divine presence in this life and in the life to come.
Finally, the imago dei, the image of God, is not just Christ but Christ in us. In Jesus, we become the image of God, too, the ones who through Christ’s body and blood become part of God’s promise. In Christ, we are all gathered to God’s salvation and become One with God. And the amazing part of this is that when we are gathered to God in Christ we begin to realize that we are also gathered to each other. If we are imprinted with God’s glory through the saving action of Jesus Christ then so is the world. And if we are brought to the foot of Jesus’ cross by seeking His love then so might everyone else.
When we begin to see the image of God in ourselves – that we are blessed – then we may also begin to see Christ in each other; then we are not only blessed but we become a blessing. When we see Christ in each other, the imago dei, then other things start to fall away. Our differences may not be erased but they become so much less important than the image of God in Jesus that we all share. Jesus hung on the cross not just for me but for us all. We need not all be in the same place to see that we are all in this together, we are all children of God in Jesus. And, if we can bring ourselves to see each other this imaginatively, then our pride, our politics, our gender and ethnic differences, our bitterness toward the other, can slowly fade away and all that is left is the love of Christ, the image and glory of God that we share.
John Lennon’s song Imagine, my favorite by far that he wrote after the Beatles, calls us to imagine a world where we may live as one. While I don’t agree with all of Lennon’s precepts, his call to imagine that we would allow all that divides us – religion, nationalism, racism, a negative sense of our own difference – to fall away … that is a use of the imagination that I can get behind. Imagine that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came among us as God’s greatest expression of love, called us to himself, and, in doing so, brought us near to not only the kingdom of God and to each other. Let’s imagine it because that is, in fact, what God in Christ has done.