The Rock rolls on

12On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ 13So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” 15He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ 16So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. (Mark 14)

In our pre-recorded service for Good Friday later this week, we will sing: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble ….”

Trembling happens in response to shock. Trembling happens as visceral reaction to something that shocks us, dislodges us, from long-standing, seemingly immovable positions.

Like a rock. Bedrock. Tectonic plates have shifted deep within us, far beneath the surface of what we normally perceive. And it changes everything. The death of Jesus changed everything. The Passion of our Lord causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble. The Passion of our Lord causes the world to tremble.

The changes were incredible and unexpected. The people, and even Jesus’ disciples, expected a mighty ruler to upend the Roman military and political dominance in their land. Despite Jesus’ humble yet triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, his followers still imagined a way forward that evaded defeat at the cross. Jesus’ death didn’t upend the Romans. But it did upend everyone’s expectations.

The large rock that enclosed his body in the tomb symbolized the final seal on Jesus’ death. There perhaps isn’t anything more final, more terminal, than standing at the tombstone of a loved one. The end of the journey. “Oh, sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

A little bit over a week ago, an earthquake struck just south of Ottawa, near Kemptville. It was a minor, magnitude 2.7 earthquake, lightly felt from Ottawa to Cornwall and into New York State.

In the Passion story from the bible, an earthquake rocked the ground around the time of Jesus death. “The earth shook, and the rocks were split.”[1] And again, at the time of Jesus’ resurrection, there was another earthquake.[2] When the women looked up at the tomb, “they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.”[3]

The Psalmist often sings of the God who is the “rock” of our salvation.[4] Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “the rock was Christ.”[5] And even Peter referred to Jesus as “a living stone … a cornerstone.”[6] A living stone is, as Diana Butler Bass puts it, a “rock that rolls”.[7]

On the surface, we may perceive rock as immovable. But, truth be told, rock isn’t really static. Geologically speaking, rocks move – slowly – but sometimes even suddenly. And when the rocks move, get ready! “Oh, sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

We have a habit of domesitcating God. But Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter shock us out of our comfort zones. We like to turn Jesus into a static figure, the one who is ‘the same yesterday and today and forever.’ Perhaps the thundering rock is too much for us. 

Yet, God remains the One who “shatters”, as C.S. Lewis once remarked. “Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of God’s presence?”[8] Because to read the Bible fairly is to discover a God who is always on the move. Always changing things.

The Passover Meal, for Christians, has not only become a practice of remembering the great acts of God from history. The Holy Meal has become a practice of celebrating the living presence – the living stone – in our midst today. Over the course of the bible, the Holy Meal is a practice infused with layers of meaning, from Passover to Real Presence. Evolving in practice and meaning.

And continues to do so even during the COVID pandemic. We have adapted. We have changed in how we do things. We have felt uncertainty during our worhsip practice of the sacrament of the Lord’s presence during the pandemic. We have mediated the sacrament through the internet. And believe you me, “Oh, sometimes, it causes me to tremble …”

At the same time, I am not the only one who has felt the initimacy, love and deep connection with those of you who have shared in this imperfect yet holy means of experiencing true presence together. We have been irradiated by Jesus’ love and presence beyond the boundaries of physical space.

Perhaps in doing these ‘temporary measures’ of responding to the pandemic restrictions, the church has done some good – to continue worshipping and seeking ever-changing ways of receiving the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. A grace of which we partake “in all times and in every place.”[9]

Thanks be to God. 

[1] Matthew 27:51

[2] Matthew 28:2

[3] Mark 16:4

[4] Psalm 18:2,46; 28:1; 31:2; 62:6; 89:26; 95:1; 144:1 

[5] 1 Corinthians 10:4

[6] 1 Peter 2:4,6

[7] Diana Butler Bass, “The Rock that Rolls” in The Cottage (March 13, 2021).

[8] Cited in ibid.

[9] Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Augsburg Fortress, 2008), p.108.

Our ‘passion’ story

Looking at this tree-like plant (behind me) reminds me of one of the major symbols of Palm Sunday – recalling the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem; and, how the crowd sang “Hosanna!” to Jesus by waving palm branches and making a roadway strewn with leaves from trees.[1]

Indeed at this time of year in Ottawa we start to see more green outside. The snow has just melted and the earth covered by ice is exposed to rain and sun for the first time in months. Thoughts of earth renewed and life restored tease me out of the doldrums of despair, as I struggle to keep my spirit afloat during the coronavirus crisis we are all enduring.

Maybe then it is appropriate to call today by its other name: “Passion Sunday”. Passion Sunday launches us into Holy Week which culminates in Good Friday, the day Jesus died. Throughout this coming week Christians recall the stories surrounding Jesus’ path to the cross.

In fact a large part of the total content in all four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – make up the Passion stories. If we consider each Gospel as made up of major parts, or Acts, as in plays of live theatre or opera (e.g. Act 1, Act II, Act III), the longest ‘Act’ of each Gospel situates Jesus in Jerusalem during his last few days. 

And yet, in our practice of faith, we conveniently steer clear of this significant though uncomfortable and disruptive part of Jesus’ life. In doing so we learn to devalue our own path of suffering as integral to faith in Jesus. We Protestants, especially, in our worship life normally leap from Palm Sunday (not even calling it Passion Sunday) to Easter Sunday avoiding everything in between.

These days during the pandemic, we don’t have the luxury of choice. We are being forced into our own Passion story. We are being asked to self-isolate. We are being asked to place restraints on our normal, social activity. And some of us are sick, and will still get sick. As social beings, we protest. 

Relationship dynamics are pushed to the limit – dating relationships, marriages, faith communities, extended families, households. And the normal fractures within relationships, usually glossed over by the activities, novelties and loud noise of regular life, are exposed now as cavernous fissures separating us during this time of ‘physical distancing’.

At this time we need to take another look at Jesus’ Passion. The word used in the context of Jesus’ suffering is not ‘passive’. It is not ‘giving up’ in a fatalistic hands-in-the-air way. It is not rejecting, or running away from, avoiding or denying what is happening to us now.

It is not giving up. But it is giving it up. Jesus in his passion did not run away. Instead he faced head-on what was being done unto him. We, too, can choose to accept our current situation and ask God, Jesus, who knows this path well, to be with us in it. Precisely because we don’t have control over this circumstance, our lives, then, are about allowing life to be done unto us, which Jesus prayed in the Garden on the night before he died.[2]So, we embrace our time of passion.

Passion time is like ‘fallowing’ time. In agrarian cultures, in farming communities, people become in tune to the seasonal changes. During long winter seasons, the land is not being productive, crops are not being sold and money is not being earned. But it is valuable time, in fallow, to refurbish and repair tools, equipment, and buildings. Down time, though seemingly ‘quiet’, is in truth generative time to press reset on the fundamentals of our community and personal relationships.

Passion time, though not easy to endure, is time nevertheless to both help and allow bodies and ecosystems to renew themselves. It is time to refresh and expand our awareness of what is, to reflect on successes and failures and decide what needs to be done differently once we are back to normal.

These fallow-time activities are not a waste of time, or time off. But, rather, this time can be seen as investment in personal, family and community well-being.[3]

The fallow season is the bridge between suffering and joy. Keeping fallow means trying another remedy for the malaise, boredom and despair we all feel:

Stillness rather than incessant activity.

Simplicity rather than always doing too much and over-functioning.

Silence rather than raising the volume.

Being with whomever makes up your household rather than being distracted by a noisy crowd.

Take this time during Holy Week not only to read the entire Passion story in any of the Gospels. But take the time, also, to rediscover your relationship with your spouse, partner, children, grandchildren, parent, grandparent, yourself. Even if you live by yourself, your pet and even your plants.

I’ll be watering this palm tree and caring for it a bit more this coming week. The meaning of Holy Week is the Passion of Christ. Walk with Jesus as Jesus walks with you. The waiting, the watching, the patience of remaining in this suffering. The ground is still fallow. The earth is fallow. This is our season, now. Waiting for the life that will surely come. 

[1]Matthew 21:6-9


[3]From Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, “The Path of Descent”/”Reality Initiating Us”, 28 March/1 April, 2020 (