This is the Meditation that was presented at the joint Good Friday service in our small community. The United Church hosted the gathering with many attending from Manitou Evangelical Free Church. Individuals from both congregations participated in the service ~ including the Ladies Choir that I've been part of for a few weeks. (It formed especially to sing over the Easter weekend). The two ministers involved in the morning Meditation were Rev. Lorna Brick and Pastor Mel Letkeman.
Today, we will explore the use of stones throughout the stories of the people of Israel and the early Christian community. As a physical link to the stories you will be hearing and as a way to help you reflect on what stones might mean for you in everyday life, we invite you to hold a stone in your hand. Take a stone from the basket, hold it and ponder the multiplicity of images that arise when you think of 'stone.'
Dear God: In our faith traditions we encounter you in many ways. We hear you first of all in the story of creation as you give life and shape to the world that is our home. Earth! Sand and soil! Pebble and rocks! Every stone we pick up and run through our fingers was created by God. We give thanks to God for the gift of creation and for all that this means for us. We give thanks for the gift of story and the ways in which stories help us to reflect on life's meaning. We give thanks to God for the gift of free will and all the responsibility that comes as we make choices about how to live within God's creation and with the elements God has created for us. On this day, let us reflect on the significance of stones in our world, and let us draw strength and hope as well as caution and concern from our reflections. In the name of the one who creates and who invites us to be stewards of creation, we pray. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Joshua 4:1-9
Twelve stones to build a cairn. Twelve stones to help us remember. We build our own memorials in many ways. Cairns in our rural communities mark where schools and churches have stood. Stones in our cemeteries carry the names of our loved ones.
Marble monuments remind us of wars fought and lives lost.
A stone in our home reminds us of a place we have visited, an experience we have celebrated, a connection we have made with someone else.
Stones become part of the web of our remembering, whether in the form of a cairn or monument. or a marker on a grave. Stones point us to places where our stories are gathered, that we might remember. In our remembering, we touch again the spaces that have been holy for us, and we find new strength as we celebrate the pathways our lives have taken.
Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 17:40-49
In the encounter between David and Goliath, we see a different use for stones. In times of war, human beings have been extraordinarily creative in the use of materials at hand to gain an advantage over an enemy. David reaches for the simplest of weapons, a young lad's slingshot and a few well-chosen stones.
Those stones, in the hands of an expert shepherd, become a weapon as lethal as any of our modern armaments. Those stones fly through the air with deadly intent, and those stones kill. To reflect on stones is to absorb not only their positive images, but also their darker side. In David's story, we are reminded of our capacity, as human beings, to kill each other. A stone becomes as much an instrument of death as any other weapon we could choose.
Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 2:11-20
What could be more natural than returning to one's home and beginning the process of rebuilding? But first, we must rebuild the walls! Solid stones set, one on top of the other, will keep out those we do not wish to include in our community. Walls will also keep in those we want to control.
These stones that we are gathering will help us build the kind of community we want where we get to decide who is in and who is out. These stones will separate us from those who disagree with us. Surely this is what our God wants. What sort of walls do we build to keep some in and others out? What happens to any group of people when another group of people decides that they are not the right sort of people? Stones become walls. Walls become prisons. Prisons destroy lives.
Scripture Reading: Luke 21:5-6
Herod the Great rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, adding a vast area to its original dimensions. The stones used in the reconstruction phase were so gigantic as to be almost beyond comprehension. One archaeological excavation has unearthed a stone that is 40 feet long, 10 feet high, and 14 feet wide, with an estimated weight of 500 tons. How could something so massive ever be destroyed? How could stones so large ever be dislodged from the place where they had been set carefully on top of one another?
What happens to our sense of security when such a structure crumbles to the ground? Where are the stones that should protect us? "Destroy this temple," said Jesus, "And in three days I will raise it up!"
Scripture Reading: John 8:3-11
It seems but a short step from the use of stones in warfare to the use of stones in legal punishment. These stones are covered in blood! The self-righteousness of a crowd that sits in judgement, eager to carry out a death sentence, is an example of that human characteristic to rush to conclusions. How often have we thought someone was guilty until proven innocent? How often have we rushed to judgement, suggesting that a person be executed? How often have we supported the actions of those who take the law into their own hands? Would we cast the first stone?
Would we stand on the sidelines and cheer as it is happening? Is the stone in our hands starting to feel less comfortable now? Are we beginning to question why it is that we have the power to stone another human being to death? Is it far easier to join a crowd, no matter the crowd's motivation? How does the stone feel in your hand now?
Scripture Reading: Mark 15:6-15
The crowd! People with stones in hand, ready to do their worst. Are we those people? It comes to us as an astonishing and startling realization that we could easily fit in with a mob mentality. How easy it is to get caught up in the moment, to suspend any sober second thoughts, to dwell within the feeling of being part of something bigger than each of us as individuals, no matter the origin or consequences. All of us have seen images of crowds that have grown out of control. It is overwhelming. And in full flight, it is uncontrollable. This is the crowd that surrounded Jesus. This is the crowd that yelled, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
We are that crowd. Like it or not, we share in the human characteristics that could easily transform ornamental stones into weapons to be thrown at others. We can become so convinced of our own righteousness that we leave no room for others to be different. We create narrow definitions of what is good ~ of what is God's ~ and then we feel free to consign all those who don't fit within our framework of godliness into the outer darkness of non-being. "Crucify him, stone her!" The shouts are there, all around us, and even in our silence, by saying and doing nothing, we participate in the cycle of violence.
Hymn: Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?
Scripture Reading: Matthew 27:57-60
The sentence of crucifixion was Rome's harshest punishment, reserved for those deemed to be opponents of the empire and disturbers of the peace. Often, the bodies were left on the crosses as a reminder to others of what would happen to them if they also disturbed the peace. This did not happen to Jesus. His body was taken down from the cross and placed in a special tomb that had been cut out of rock for Josephy of Arimathea and his family. A rock has been hollowed out to shape a tomb. The tomb is protected by a stone that has been rolled across the opening.
There is night, and there is a kind of peace. What a journey our stones have taken! From creation, through memorials, to the killing fields of human contacts, to the crowds who cast the stones in judgement. And now this: a tomb.
An ending, and yet also a new beginning. Entombed in stone, waiting to be born anew, to rise from the dead. Hope transformed as life leads to death and death leads to the promise of life beyond death. I invite you to take your stone home with you and use it as a memorial for the journey you are on. The journey from creation to death, to the in-between time of waiting and hoping. Remember that stones are used for good things and for bad things. But know that the choice has always been ours. Know too, that it is the choices we make that ultimately define us. May God help us to hear the stories, to ponder the choices, and to live in ways that are life-giving, ever-nurturing, and love abiding.
Hymn: Beneath The Cross of Jesus
We leave this story in the middle, knowing that we will return on Sunday morning to listen to the next chapter. This is the way things are in life. We accept incompleteness. We wait for a story to continue. We ponder and we hope. Go home then to ponder. But go home also with hope, knowing that we already have an insight into how God's story continues. It continues with us! We are part of the ongoing story. This is our story, and we live it in faith, in trust, and in love. We live it because love has clothed itself in light and embraces us with hope. We live it because we are children of God's creation, sharing in the life God gives us, becoming the unfolding story of God's Word each moment that we live.
Thanks be to God.