Faith Works 3-30-13
At the Crack of Dawn, Rumblings of a Cloudless Sky
The "crack of dawn," no doubt, thought the gardener, as he rummaged in the dim pre-dawn light through his rough leather sack for the last of yesterday's loaf of bread.
Right enough, with the sky finally peeling back to show stars and the promise of sunlight, after these last few days of darkness at noon, ominous roiling clouds overhead, and the very earth shaking right through yesterday.
It began Friday, with a shock in mid-afternoon enough to knock a man off his feet, toppling grave markers and it's said in the streets that even the high, wide veil in the Temple itself tore from top to bottom, as the vast walls of the inner chambers heaved about.
Strange days, he thought, but now the first day of a new week, and a new week is just what we need. After the distraught frenzy of the crowds, building and growing through the Passover preparations, rioting in the porticos of the Temple itself, Roman processions in the street flaunting their condemned captives, snatching innocent pilgrims out of the throng for commandeered dirty work on their behalf: the Passover itself yesterday was subdued, quiet, with just the occasional shaking deep beneath everyone's feet to keep the uneasy calm off balance.
Now light is splitting the sky overhead, and the nearly visible beams of dawn reach over the Mount of Olives, touch the gold peaks of the Temple as with fire, and soon even this rocky garden patch on the west side of the city, just beyond the walls, would have light enough to move about without fear of a foot set wrong, a wrenched ankle for your troubles.
It was not the first time the Roman swine had used his property for an execution ground, and it was not as if he had any choice in the matter. No one bore him any ill will, for who could say "No" to Rome? Only messianic raving preachers on marketplace platforms could shout contradiction to the imperial eagles as they passed, and they were snatched up and stuffed away so quickly you couldn't keep their names straight in memory. All the Johns and Jameses and Joshuas started to blur together.
What this dawn and new week meant was a setting to rights. Crowds gathered, not too disorderly with legionaries nearby, but new spring flowers were trampled, gravestones not shaken by earthquake might have been swung about to make a place to stand and see more clearly . . . what kind of thoughtless fool would stand on a tomb slab? Didn't they know that someday they would want the peace of their grave to be uninterrupted into the ages? The Sadducees said that death was oblivion and the disposition of the body was no matter to anyone, least of all to the dead, but in his garden, the body would be given rest and respect, and the . . . soul, or what ever the Almighty might determine, would have a place, here if not in Sheol.
Dawn breaking over the western wall of Jerusalem, and the crust worn down by equally eroded teeth, the old gardener stood to survey his plot. The one piece of property he owned outside of the city proper, it was a rough square of rocky knolls, level spaces of bush and planted herbs or flowering shrubs, the vales each with their funerary niches and large stones to seal them from the dogs.
The Romans were all too good about cleaning up their own messes, so the post holes chipped into the higher rocks were bare to the sky, only the stain of blood on the bare ground about them showing their purpose. No nails, fragments of wood, or even nastier pieces of anything were left. It would be the litter of the witnesses only to pick up, and a few broken stems to either saw off or bend back.
Yet even at this hour, there was some disturbance further below; he could see, down where there was still some shadow, a figure quickly striding away in a clean white robe, and closer still a group of women rushing towards where he stood, holding ointment jars and no doubt looking for a particular tomb, or help with moving a stone.
The gardener sighed. This was never the start of a good day, or good news. He hitched up his robe at the shoulders, and walked towards the women to see what they had to say.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him an early morning tale at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.