Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The stone he rolled away

We built a house. Unlike a ton of people, we never really dreamed about doing that, never had a dream house, per se. I still find it hard to believe that we're here. 

I didn't build it, literally. My father built his house, most of it anyway, or so I'm told, used his own hands. But I didn't build this one: whole crews of men and women with real skills framed it, floored it, fitted its cabinets, and finished it up. Sometimes I watched, but not long. "I charge $15 an hour," one of them told me, "$30 if you watch, and $45 the minute you pick up a hammer." He smiled, but I got the message.

The only task I can say I did was muscle tons of river rocks into into retaining walls, sometimes four feet high, that run around every corner of the place and line the walk-out basement, stretching out toward the acre of grasses out back. Took me some few hours to do it. When I point those walls out and tell people I made them, they're surprised. I like that. 

I think I know a little about rocks. I'm no geologist. I know what Sioux quartzite looks like, but most of the others' names escape me. I know they're not all of similar weight--some dense ones are really heavy. But when I was putting those walls together, I had a good idea which ones I could take a shot at moving and which--I'm a retired man, you know--required my neighbor's skid loader. 

I say that because this Easter I heard something I'd never, ever heard before. Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man who could somehow make his way through an eye of a needle. On his own, dangerously too, he went to Pilate and asked for something greatly undesirable--the body of Jesus. Then he buried that body--he and Nicodemus, Jesus's late-night friend--in his own tomb. Here's how Matthew's account has it:
As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.
It took me an entire lifetime to hear that last line. Somewhere in my childhood I picked up the image of a stone maybe five feet tall in front of the entrance to the vault. I never thought much about how it got there, simply assumed that it took a squad of beefy Roman soldiers to man it into place, maybe a team of horses or a quartet of oxen to get the job done right. 

I never once imagined Joseph of Arimathea, all by himself, muscling it into place. Listen, I know about these things--if he did the job, what he rolled up wasn't much of a stone, and it certainly wasn't five feet around like the one in my imagination. Even if Joseph was a hulk, he couldn't have rolled up my version of that stone by himself. He would have needed a skid loader. But the Bible says he arm-wrestled that beast into place all by his lonesome. 

But in my mind the real story is rolling it away. My imagination always got the job done with a squad of angels, who simply poofed it into paper mache. Or else Jesus himself sat up, smiled, and waved a finger--whoosh, stone's gone. For all of my life, rolling the stone away required a miracle because the simple fact that the stone was gone sent those beefy soldiers high-tailing it to headquarters. 

For the first time in my life, I couldn't help wonder whether maybe Jesus himself rolled the stone away. Seriously? He could have. After all, Joseph of Arimathea rolled it into place. Maybe Jesus took a look at that thing, loosened up his shoulders a bit, spit on his hands, bent his knees properly, and did the job himself. Maybe it wasn't angels or even a miracle, some fabulous act of God.

Wait a minute. Even if he did it himself, it was an act of God, wasn't it? The miracle isn't in the stone, its heft, or some First Century B. C. skid loader behind a quartet of Jewish oxen. The miracle is that our Lord sat up, brushed himself off, stood, got his bearings for a minute. and walked out of that tomb. That he lives is the real miracle. 

The stone is only a stage prop. 

Maybe Jesus did it with his own hands, moved it himself, shouldered it gone, then bent down and stepped out of the tomb into the face of a dawn no one had ever seen before. He's alive. That's the real story.

Everything else is incidental.

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