“Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” – Genesis 28:10-17
Should you one day make it to Jerusalem, you will no doubt also make your way to what many consider the holiest site in the world: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which they say is on the site of both Jesus’ crucifixion and of the tomb from which he was resurrected. Stop in the courtyard outside and look up, just to the right above the main doors. There you’ll see a wooden ladder propped against a windowsill. No one knows for sure exactly how long it’s been there, but it’s visible in photographs from the late 1800s, and there’s an engraving of the church from the 1720s that shows something that looks an awful lot like it. Probably placed by some careless workman who forgot to clean up after the job three hundred years ago, it’s been kept sitting there ever since because the half dozen or so Christian denominations who share uneasy control of the church can’t agree on whose responsibility it is or what to do with it. They call it The Immovable Ladder.
You could claim that it connects nothing, serves no purpose, helps no one. But it’s hard to look at it without being reminded forcefully of how weird humans are, how feckless and fickle not only we, but our institutions are, too. So while Jacob’s ladder connects heaven and earth, and your ladder connects the front yard to the porch roof, maybe The Immovable Ladder is there to connect us to our own brokenness. Maybe it’s there to remind you of just how foolish you can be, and how trapped you can become.
You can’t help but shake your head in wonderment and despair when you see it, and maybe that’s exactly the right thing to do before you approach the place where humanity crucified love.
God, for a ladder that leads nowhere but my own foolishness, I thank you. For an empty tomb that leads beyond it, I worship you. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.