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Read: Joshua 4:1-9
When your children ask in time to come,
‘What do those stones mean to you?’
then you shall tell them
that the waters of the Jordan were cut off
in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord.
Two weeks ago I gathered with my extended family for a week-long reunion in northern Michigan. There’s about ninety of us spread across Alberta, Ontario, the Netherlands, and a handful in the States, so we do this reunion every four years to stay connected.
These reunions have developed a rhythm of events over the years, including the famed and slightly dreaded Talent Show. My cousin and I managed to convince some other family-members into performing “One Day More” from Les Miserables. Thankfully that recording hasn’t yet been uploaded to the world wide web, so you’ll just have to trust me that it was awesome and that we 100% knew what we were doing.
On Sunday, we concluded the week with a worship service at which I was asked to give a brief message. What follows is a slightly abridged version of what I said to my family, in the hopes that it’s meaningful for you as well.
All week I’ve been thinking about the song “One Day More.” It’s this really big, really grand song that comes at the end of the first act of Les Mis. But it starts out pretty despairingly. “One day more, another day another destiny, this never-ending road to Calvary.” Bleak.
This week certainly hasn’t been bleak. But when you get this many people together for this long a time, it doesn’t stay happy-clappy all week long. After all the small talk and niceties, we begin to reveal the facets of our lives that are difficult. Our jobs are stressful. Our relationships have fissures in them. Our bodies don’t work like we want them to.
We have lots of reasons to despair. We despair over the environment. We despair over our kids. We despair over our jobs. We despair over our governments. We despair over “those people over there.” We despair over the simple fact that even among family, we have to guard what we say because I’m just not sure where you stand on certain things.
It’s easy to despair. It’s a lot more work to stay hopeful.
Which is why I love the story of Joshua 4. After trekking through the desert for forty-years the Israelites stand before the mighty Jordan. They’ve come this far, but now the promised land is on the other side of that river, and there’s no way across. Bleak.
But God does what God does and shows up, rolling back the waters so the people can cross on dry land. And when they’re across, God tells them to pile together twelve large stones – a cairn – one for each tribe of Israel. When their children and their children’s children see the stones and ask, “What happened here?” they will be told the story of God’s faithfulness in moving the people from despair into hope.
I think our lives are full of such monuments. Not literal stones. And not always to commemorate such big, magnificent, miraculous moments. Not always an entire cairn.
But small miracles. Perhaps a single standing stone.
I think these reunions are standing stones. A group of people – some of us quite different from each other –coming together time after time to remember where we’ve come from. A reminder of God’s faithfulness.
Moments when we can recognize each other full on are standing stones. To say to someone, “I know you and I love you” with all their faults and foibles, and to feel as though we, with all our faults and foibles, are known and loved, is itself a small miracle.
I was at synod the day my sister Jovita, who has Down Syndrome, graduated from Niagara College. Naturally I checked out of the conversation on the floor of synod to watch her walk across the stage via live stream on my laptop.
A little later, we concluded our synod session by singing “My Life flows on in endless song,” which happened to be my Oma’s favorite song as she lay dying in the hospital a few years ago. I stood in the middle of the CFAC auditorium weeping because here’s this little part of Oma, who would have been so proud of Jovita, celebrating with us. Standing Stone.
They’re everywhere. Raisin bread. Good organ music. Sunrises. A hug. A cat settling itself onto your lap.
All those little gifts that we take for granted, but which are really little standing stones in our lives, little reminders that we aren’t alone, that this is not the end of this, that God is faithful, and that our reason for hope comes from outside of ourselves.
That song Oma loved goes like this: “No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging. Since Christ is Lord over heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”
Every standing stone points us to the rock upon which we cling. Because we know – amidst all our despair – that we can never achieve what we want to achieve. We’ve seen too much of ourselves.
But in Christ, all things are possible. In Christ the world will be made new. In Christ our relationships are healed. In Christ our bodies are made whole. In Christ, our despair is overcome.
In Christ, all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. Great is God’s faithfulness.