For some reason, this first week after Easter, the stone has drawn my attention. Propped there for years, in hearing and celebrating the life-breathing message of Christ’s resurrection; it is in the picture, then not. But it has captured my attention this year, as I feel a stone’s weight of concern sit upon my heart – for friends, for family; for the future of the world, backlit by the crossfires of social commentary. And I see that the power that raised Jesus from the dead, also lifted away the stone that would hold us, at least, in the grave.
There are other stones God addresses.
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the promised land, God asked Joshua to have one man from each tribe carry a stone of remembrance from the river, gathered from this spot: “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by…Joshua 3:17a “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:6,7 (1)
The river ran a boundary between the Israelites in the wilderness, and their stepping into the land of God’s promise.
I wonder, as they look at the stones, do they also remember another water crossing??? Ex. 13:17.18a “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.” (2)
In that desert, at Pharaoh’s approach, the people “were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Ex 14:12
Moses replies, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” Ex 14:13a (2)
In between the Red Sea of deliverance, and the river separating them from the land of God’s promise, lay 40 years in the wilderness. It feels like wilderness sometimes, to be rescued by God from the darkness of sin; only to wander in a place of shameful weight, whether the sin is one’s own, or committed against one; wearing clothes the cold gray color of the grave. It is also a place where we again, begin to trust that God is with us, that He has always been with us, a place where we learn anew the truths on which to stand. A place to begin to look up and see the promise. And in that place, we lay down curses and shame. We fold the grave-clothes honorably, for they have brushed our skin, sometimes for years. But they are grave-clothes, and we lay them behind to pick up stones. Not the familiar weights of guilt and shame, the bricks of Egypt, that God knows we are prone to find less terrifying, but stones of remembrance of his power.
Joshua set up the stones east of the Jordan. “He said to the Israelites, ‘In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, “What do these stones mean?” tell them, “Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” Joshua 4:23.24 (3)
Powerful God, Mighty Deliverer, we are a people terrified and traumatized by the past; rescued only by your deliverance. Evil runs rampant over the earth. Some of us remain in need of rescue. Will you push back the waters that block our escape, by your merciful grace? Will you do on earth, what you SEE in heaven?
Thank you for the freedom, and the toil of the wilderness, for it teaches us about you; about your provision, your heart. Thank you for wilderness time to re-tapestry our hearts with death and life, to look more like yours. Will you renew mine?
In the wilderness of societal confusion, where factions cry out; will you give us dry ground on which to stand firm? May we see in the stones, 12 of them, the breadth of your reach? As we come into your presence, the Holy of Holies, will you steady us in truthful worship, toe-to-toe, side-by-side; our lives grounded in WHO YOU ARE rather than the politics of the moment?
You have promised…to give what is both meaningful to us, and praise-filled for you. Rivers of deception separate us from the realization of that promise. The subtleties of confusion keep us churning between ‘dry ground’, and desert, looking back…. Make us wholly your own, in fear and awe of you, we pray.
(1,2,3) All scripture references taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version c 1973,1978 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission.