37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, even the stones would cry out.” Luke 22:37-40
Few things in this world are as earthy and temporal as stones. Pick one up alongside a stream and it is easy to wonder about the history you hold. Where has this stone been? How many thousands or millions of days has it seen? Who has held it before? Has anyone?
Roll it around in your hand, feel the grit, the rough edges, the rigidity. It is an experience that is often absent in the urban, technological confines of modern life. At least for me, it is a strange and wonderful connection that cuts to the root of our existence. Revelatory of both how far we have come and at the same time how carnal, imperfect, and finite we remain. From the dirt of the ground we came and to the dirt we will return.
Reflecting on these things I recently found myself at Rock Creek collecting stones on a snowy morning before Ash Wednesday. I had decided that real, physical stones would be a helpful counterpart for my church’s Midweek Lenten services, themed “Journey of Stones.” While creating this series I was surprised by the number of Biblical passages that involve stones, often used to commemorate a great event (see Joshua 4:9), or as a teaching tool (see Matthew 21:42).
At these services (we are in week 4 now) I have invited people to take a stone as they enter, explaining that the stones might be representative of the prayers in their hearts, their sins realized and unrealized, and any other weight they may be carrying. At the time in the service for Communion, I have invited the people to lay their stones before the altar, (which itself is made of stone) allowing God to take their burdens.
In last week’s service, holding my own stone – simple, rough, unadorned – I contemplated the way that little piece of nature was able to connect me to my God. That stone I realized, had been around, in one form or another, since the moment of creation.
I am reminded of the closing words from my favorite movie and one of my favorite books, A River Runs Through It:
Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.
I am not sure what exactly Norman MaClean had in mind when he wrote those words, but for me they contain a sentiment that is deep and true.
In this life we are all haunted. Haunted by things we have done, or failed to do. Haunted by the tragic and difficult places in human existence – our own inability to control many aspects of this life. We are haunted by our fallen nature and the eternal weight of death and sin.
But there is also hope. Several weeks ago, as I collected those stones by the river I also had to wash them, each individual one, to prepare them for a new purpose. They were being gathered for a place before their maker in worship.
To collect the stones I had to go to where they were, getting muddy in the process. During this season of Lent we are reminded that our God has come to us willing to be muddied by our sins, our stones placed upon his shoulders. Still, triumphant in the end, it was a stone removed that proved the hope of all.
Because of what he has done, there will be a day when God will gather up his people, unadorned, rough, gritty and rebellious, and with the waters of forgiveness and life, flowing from the throne of God and the lamb, we might finally, ultimately be cleansed.
It is hard to imagine anything more earthly or temporal than stones. Yet, scripture tells us, that if ever we should forget our God and all he’s done, even the stones will cry out.