The Stone Cutter
Sweat tricked down Yeshua’s face creating little rivers in the rock dust that covered it. Even the rock surrounding him, dimming the bright sun outside did not provide relief from the heat. He wished he could strip to his linen undergarment. With the possibility that his employer, Joseph, might appear unannounced since the tomb he was carving from the rock actually was part of the garden, that wasn’t possible. Yeshua mentally cursed as his damp hands slipped on the chisel.
The tomb was nearing completion, but this third bench in the wall was proving to be the most difficult. At least, he thought, “I don’t have to carve a stone for the entrance.” The large, solid piece of rock he had removed to begin excavating would serve perfectly.
He could hear birds singing outside and almost smell the tamarisk blossoms even through the dust. I remember, he thought with bitterness. I remember working in my father’s olive groves in spring when the trees were blossoming. The olive groves that should have been half mine. His hammer struck the chisel with too much force and it bounced back at him.
The bird song was replaced with a voice. Even inside the cave he could hear it. “Yeshua! Yeshua”. At first it was faint, but grew louder as the shouter came through the garden to the cave entrance. “Yeshua. Yeshua.”
Yeshua walked out into the sunlight. He blinked several times, his eyes starting to adjust to the brightness after having spent several hours in dimness. The shouter was running through the garden out of breath from both the running and shouting. It was Malachi, his employer’s steward.
“Yeshua, the tomb must be cleared and ready before evening.”
What? The tomb was being prepared for the day his employer or a family member died. Since the family was fairly young and as far as he knew in good health, there must have been an accident. But ready? Not yet. There was a good month’s work still to be done to finish that third bench he had just started.
“What has happened, Malachi? Is it the master or one of his family? Was there an accident?”
Malachi finally reached Yeshua and stopped before him. as we speak and he has no burial place” He is poor and not from Jerusalem.”
Friend? Crucified? Impossible. Joseph of Arimathea would never befriend a thief, a murdered, someone who committed crimes against Rome.
“That can’t be.”
“Well it is. I am on my way to buy the linen for the body. There is no time for anyone in his family to weave it. His friend will be crucified near the hour of noon, so you have some time.”
Some time? There was rubble to remove, dust to be swept away. And all this for someone who was crucified.
Still, he was an employee and had little choice but to obey. He would get it done somehow.
“I will see to it. It will be done.”
Reassured, Malachi took off at a run through the garden and Yeshua went back into the tomb. As he worked, he thought of his father’s sudden death.
Yeshua had been a child of his father’s old age, ten years younger than his brother, Asaph. An accident in the fields when he was but ten took his father who had never changed his will. “My brother was rightly named. He collected all and I was left to be sent out to apprentice as a stone cutter, far away from the fields, which should rightly have been part mine. So I am in a cave, covered with dust, preparing it for someone who will be crucified”. No matter, he worked through the morning.
About noon, almost finished with his labors, still inside the cave, Yeshua heard a low, rumbling sound. The walls of the cave started to shake slightly and he ran outside fearing some type of cave-in.
The sky was dark, clouds broiling across the horizon and the earth itself was shaking. He moved as far away from the rocks as he could and flattened himself against the ground. Never had there been an experience like that before in his life.
After what seemed like an hour, but was probably a minute or two, the sky began to clear and the earth settled back.
With some worry, he went back in, surveyed his work in the cave. Two of the three shelves were complete so there was a proper place for the body. Soaked with sweat now, he picked up broom to clean the tomb. He was finished an hour later, in the early afternoon. As he collected his tools and broom and walked outside once again to a settled earth, he noticed no birds were singing, and the bright sunshine of the early morning was now clouded over.
Before he could leave, he heard voices coming from the garden entrance and moved to stand in the shadow of the rock that would seal the tomb’s entrance once the body had been deposited. He wondered who would move it on the third day so the body could be properly examined. Would Joseph or someone else donate the spices? The family of the crucified man?
A small group moved through the garden. His employer was in the lead, followed by two men he did not know carrying a body wrapped in linen. All had heads sprinkled with earth. There were two women and Yeshua assumed the older might be the mother or sister of the man. The other woman was dressed as a woman of means. All were barefoot. There will be much ritual cleansing, he thought and drew close to the rock to avoid any possible contact with the body.
The group stopped directly in front of him but did not notice him standing in shadow. As the body passed by, although it was well wrapped in a shroud no longer white but soaked with blood, a hand fell from within the cloth. The blood and pierce marks of a nail showed cruelly against the white skin. The mourners carrying the body at head and feet, trapped in their grief, had not noticed.
Poor fellow. Yeshua was moved with pity. No one deserved to die like that no matter what he had done. Without thinking, he moved from the shadows, startling the group, and picked up the hand to put it back in the shroud. Strange, he thought. It feels so warm. He noticed the hand was the hand of a workman with deep calluses from hard labor. He felt a strange sense of kinship and it almost seemed the hand grasp his back as he placed it carefully in the folds of the cloth. The bearers looked startled at first then grateful.
Yeshua felt no taint of being unclean, just that sense of pity and of overwhelming sorrow. A kinship like no other he had ever felt.
The mourners went into the tomb and for some reason, he followed them. As they carefully placed the body on the shelf, Yeshua was somehow glad he had carefully crafted it and ensured it was clean. When they emerged, without being asked, he rolled the stone to cover the tomb entrance into place and stood still thinking about that hand while the mourners went back through the garden.
On that third day, Yeshua awoke early. The sun was barely up, but he was strangely restless and a thought came into his mind. Who will open the tomb for the women? Who will help them if they need something? Dressing quickly, he left his rented room and made the mile-long journey to the garden. Early though he was, one of the women, the well-dressed one, was emerging from the tomb as he approached. How did she move the stone? He looked closely at her. She was slender and her clothing was undisturbed. Surely she didn’t do it by herself. Looking more closely the nearer he came to the tomb entrance, he realized that she was standing quite still, not with a look of sadness or mourning, but the most joyous look he had ever seen.
The woman started to run. She passed him as though he wasn’t there.
Yeshua felt compelled to enter the tomb although it meant still another ritual cleansing.
The body was gone. Someone had stolen it. How could the woman be rejoicing when her friend, for the fellow had been obviously poor where she was not, had been stolen?
He was totally bewildered and started to leave, but before he could leave the garden, she was back with two men. Again, he went unnoticed as all three entered the tomb and after a few minutes, came back out. The men looked puzzled and the woman still joyful. Together, the three left Yeshua alone with the tomb.
Yeshua moved slowly, confused, bewildered.
In the days that passed that were his lifetime, he often thought of the day the man was buried, the day his body was no longer there. He didn’t understand it, but never forgot it. The sadness and then the unexplained joy. The feeling of that hand he had placed back in the shroud. A hand not unlike his own.