Laboring With A Shovel

The imaginary link between Saturday and Sunday, as the weekend, does not always link them together in practice.  In the same way that we struggle to get the ball rolling again on Monday, as compared to the ease with which we abandon the week's momentum on Friday, Saturday usually draws me out of the house to work in the yard; whereas, Sunday sends me to take refuge in the sanctuary of the church.  I feel the intense heat of the sun on Saturday, and I am graciously aware of the warmth of God's presence on Sunday.

Due to a former tree in our front yard, which was removed before we moved into the house, a deep hole eroded and developed.  Over the years, the place where the stump used to reside became a hidden hole, so after cutting the grass one Saturday, we discovered this veiled snare, and I went to get a shovel from the garage.  With each heap of dirt, I looked down to see if the hole was filled, but I misjudged its depth, while I also underestimated the strain of shoveling dirt.  I continued to carry buckets of dirt and to fill the hole until it was completely full.

The only thing harder than filling a hole with dirt is digging one.  Leaning over and over again strains the back and puts callouses on our hands.  The heart rate goes up, and the body grows weary.  Muscles will ache the next day, and the satisfaction of a job well done is minimal, for all to show for hours of work is an empty hole.  However, if it were not for digging holes, we would not have ditches.  We could not control the run-off of water. Digging in the dirt is strenuous, but vital work.

On Saturday, I spent hours working in the yard, laboring and shoveling, while on Sunday, I sat and listened for the presence of God in worship and in prayer.  The two days are tied together in theory, as the weekend, but they are not tied together necessarily in practice.  At first glance, the two days seem to occupy different places on the calendar and have different purposes during the week, a day for yard work and a day for rest, but perhaps there is a quiet connection.

When artists throughout history have depicted the resurrection scene in the gospel of John when Jesus appears in the garden to Mary Magdalene outside of the empty tomb, Jesus is standing there mistaken as a gardener, so artists have placed in his hand, of all things, a shovel.  In the glory of Easter morning, Jesus stands in front of Mary Magdalene holding a shovel.  The glory of God can be seen in the hard labor of digging.

The church has always been a low-lying place.  It is never located at the highest point of elevation, so it is a place where the grace of God pools.  Grace collects, gathers, and accumulates, but Jesus stands in the garden with a shovel, ready to dig.  The church is called to do the spadework of digging trenches and creating channels of grace, so that the mercy, hope, acceptance, empathy, and strength of God runs off in all directions.

This is strenuous and demanding work that seems endless, but it is the connection between the hard labor of Saturday and the sanctuary of Sunday, the work during the week and the rest of worship.  The link is the shovel in Jesus' hand in the garden.  There is no natural run-off from the church; it requires labor and toil.  It is the work of those holding shovels of grace. 

Part of creating ditches, generating run-off from the church, is recognizing that water does not flow two ways.  Water only flows one way, which in this case, is to where it is needed most, so when the church creates run-off, it does so not expecting anything in return.  This is the hard part of the work, but then again, it is also the nature of grace.