The Easter Season lasts fifty days, so the following chapter from my book Voices: God Speaking in Creation is still appropriate. Each chapter is a reflection on a physical object mentioned in Scripture. This chapter draws lessons from a stone:
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. Luke 24:2
On the morning of the resurrection, women who went to the Lord’s rock-hewn tomb found that the stone blocking the entrance was rolled away. In Matthew’s account, the women saw an angel move the stone and sit on it. This stone was a sign that Jesus broke the bonds of death and was risen. Just as plants amazingly push up through the nooks and crannies of rocky crags, Jesus burst forth from the tomb. The corpse in the cave was transformed into the fully alive and glorified Messiah. Matter could not restrain him. The stone was moved not to free him but to let visitors peer inside the tomb.
If that stone had not been rolled away, if there had been no resurrection, we probably never would have heard of Jesus. He would have passed into oblivion along with the millions of other people who once walked our planet and died. His life and his death would have been insignificant. As it is, the resurrection gave credibility to the Man and his message and infused the world with hope. Now we Christians worship Jesus as God. And now we have reason to believe that death is not a deadend, the end of life, but the gateway to a new and happier existence. We have reason to believe in a love that is stronger than death.
A primary class was preparing to act out the resurrection story. One boy stated that he wanted to be the large rock. “Why do you want to be the rock?” inquired his teacher. “So I can let Jesus out,” the child replied.
To let Jesus out. This is our life’s goal. We want to free him to be alive in us so that his energy may pulsate through us. The rocks that block him may be boulders or heaps of pebbles, things like a stubborn will, pride, selfishness, ignorance, laziness, and other faults. By dint of dynamite or erosion we remove these rocks. Yahweh asks in Scripture, “Is not my word like fire . . . and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29). God’s Word is one tool that can demolish whatever lies between Jesus and us. Listening to Scripture, reading it, mulling over it, and praying over it can change us. Sometimes a passage we have heard a thousand times suddenly, with startling clarity, applies to us.
The life of St. Augustine demonstrates the potency of Scripture. For the first thirty-two years of his life, Augustine was alienated from Jesus. To his mother St. Monica’s dismay, he led a dissolute life and followed the heretical Manichees. He lived with a woman and had a son by her. Then one day he heard a child’s voice chanting repeatedly, “Take it and read.” He opened a Bible and read the first passage his eyes fell on: “Let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and licentiousness, not in debauchery and drunkenness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:13–14).
In one glorious flash the path to Jesus was cleared for Augustine. He reformed and became a bishop in Africa as well as a prolific writer and speaker for the faith. His famous saying expresses the essential discovery of his life: “Our hearts, O Lord, are restless until they rest in you.”
Once Jesus is free to act in us, he is released in the world. Through us the power of his love can penetrate and heal hard places, wounded places, and decaying places. He can revitalize the earth. Psychotherapist Scott Peck points out that the word evil is the opposite of live. By reversing evil with Jesus’ help, not only do we live ourselves, but we enable others to live.
With Jesus living in us, our accomplishments, all the good we do, can be traced to him. No need to be puffed up by our successes in preaching, teaching, counseling, or the spiritual life. All is grace. He does more than we can ask or imagine when we give him free rein. We can rely on him like a rock.
“Rock” was a favorite Hebrew epithet for God. In Psalm 18 we pray: “The Lord is my rock. . . in whom I take refuge” (v. 2) “And who is a rock besides our God?” (v. 31), and “Blessed be my rock!” (v. 46).
How is God like a rock? Rock is heavy, massive, and hard. It symbolizes might and dependability. When we stand in a canyon before a huge wall of rock, rest on a slab of granite, or clamber over rocks pounded by ocean waves, we sense a quiet strength. An educational magazine once recommended that a dish of pretty, smooth stones be available for angry and aggressive students to use. Rubbing one of these “serenity stones” restores peace.
This is God for us: the rock bottom of the universe. He is always there, steady and silent, inscrutable and invariable. He is the solid Spirit that supports all. He is the rock of ages.
Happy are those who make God the rock of their life. These are the people who acknowledge their dependence on God, make him their center of gravity, and look to him for help. They are upheld by the assurance of God’s deep and lasting love for them. Their world may fall apart, yet they stand firm. People may turn against them, criticize them, threaten them, and attack them, yet they remain calm. Their plans and projects may disintegrate into nothing, but they do not despair. They are founded on something far greater than the evanescent cares of this temporary life on Earth.
Jesus, too, is called rock. Paul saw the rock that gushed forth water for the thirsty Hebrews in the desert as a symbol for Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). He is our life. Nothing else really matters on this Earth: not our sins, not our achievements, not John of the Cross, not the charismatic movement, not Church controversies—only Jesus.
Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders that has become the cornerstone (Acts 4:11). The whole building of the new creation depends on him. He holds the Church together. The day Jesus delegated his authority to Simon, he made a play on words. He changed Simon’s name to Peter, which means rock. He said, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The qualities of rock that correspond to God’s characteristics also mark his Church: strength and dependability. Popes, heretics, saints, bishops, theologians, persecutors come and go. The Church remains.
The Church is founded on rock, as was the house in Christ’s parable. The house built on sand collapsed under the onslaught of a storm, whereas the house founded on rock weathered the wind, the rains, and floodwaters. The house on rock is Jesus’ image for those who hear the word of God and follow it. The Church, each of us members, is strong and safe as long as we remain faithful to God, true to our baptismal promises.
This means that we, too, must become like rock. We must strive to be firm in our commitments and unyielding to temptations. Perseverance, determination, faithfulness and loyalty are acknowledged and admired attributes of a person of integrity. In Homer’s Odyssey, Penelope is extolled for waiting faithfully for many years for her husband’s return. She told her suitors she would marry one of them when her knitting was finished. Then every night she unraveled what she had knit during the day. St. Thomas More, chancellor of England, is a champion when it comes to being true to your word. He gave his life rather than be swayed from what was right by his king-friend.
To be faithful to a commitment for years, especially when that commitment entails hardship and trials, is a real achievement. Those who manage to keep their promises through all the kaleidoscopic changes of life are nothing less than heroic.
In Scripture we are called living stones. Some of us are igneous rock, formed spontaneously by the fire of the Spirit. Some are sedimentary rock, formed through long years of layered material and pressure. Some of us are metamorphic rock, formed through a drastic change. We may be a diamond or some other precious stone, marble, or conglomerate, but whatever we are, we are important. Each of us has something to impart to the Church that no one else has. If we don’t give it, the Church will be the poorer for it. Together we make the Church what it is.
Stones are smoothed and polished naturally by the force of crashing waves. This process can be accelerated by a machine that shakes the stones together. After a few days they are ready to be set into jewelry and other decorations. Our rough edges are worn off by rubbing shoulders with one another. It is through the friction of personal relationships, through conflicts, hurtful truths, compromises, and reconciliations that we become polished gems. Jean Vanier in Community and Growth wisely observes, “While we were alone, we could believe we loved every one. Now that we are with others, we realize how incapable we are of loving, how much we deny life to others.”
In particular those people who rub us the wrong way can make us saints. They afford us the opportunity to grow in many virtues, above all, in love. We should thank God for their presence in our lives. C.S. Lewis revealed one of the best secrets for strained relationships: “When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
Since the Stone Age, human beings have exploited the pragmatic side of rock. We’ve built buildings, walls, walks, and bridges out of stone and fashioned stone tools and weapons. Rocks have served as paperweights, doorstops, and even as pets. The glory of rock, though, is achieved when a sculptor chisels it into a work of art. Michelangelo’s David, Moses, and Pietà, for instance, are among humankind’s most splendid treasures.
Throughout our years on Earth, the Master Sculptor works on us. With infinite patience and consummate skill, God chips away at the rough unfinished rock that hides us until our true shape emerges. Our Creator delicately hones the lineaments and polishes the features, bringing us to the perfection we are meant to reflect for his glory. When we are finished,—just as in the Greek myth Galatea who was carved out of ivory and loved by Pygmalion, her maker, came to life—we will wake to supernatural life. Then we will live as we have never lived before. The beginning of our transformation is foretold in Yahweh’s promise to Israel: “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).
At Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Pharisees urged him to stop his disciples from honoring him and acclaiming him king. Jesus responded. “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40). The stones do shout out his greatness, as does the entire cosmos. The universe is bathed in God. And we, his friends in whom he dwells, in freedom and full consciousness, cry out in love and admiration:
Blessing and glory and wisdom
and honor and power and might
be to our God
for ever and ever! Amen. Revelation 7:12
- When has God been a rock for you?
- What is the difference between a heart of rock and a heart of stone?
PS: The Voices book is available directly from me.