The first reading today, taken from Chapter Three of the Book of Joshua, is an important one. It tells how when the Israelites’ forty years in the desert were completed, and they had come to pass over the Jordan into the Promised Land, they found that the snows thawing on Mt. Hermon in Lebanon had swollen the Jordan, making it impassable.
Christians all know the story about the Israelites passing through the Red Sea on dry land, but some of them have never heard of the similar miracle at the end of their forty-year journey through the desert. As a final expression of their faith, Joshua had them follow God’s command to march ten abreast into the Jordan that was wide and deep.
With the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant at their lead, they headed right at the river. When the feet of the priests with the Ark stepped into the shallows, the river backed up, letting the Ark lead them down into the river bed. The priests with the Ark took their stand down there, while the throng passed by, climbing up into the Promised Land.
The Jordan in flood is a symbol for death. The Ark taking its stand at the bottom of the bed is a symbol of Christ on the cross, letting us pass by into heaven.
When they all had come up from the river, Joshua sent a strong young man from each of the twelve tribes to go back into the river bed for the biggest boulder he could carry. Joshua then had them put the boulders in a ring on the bank as a symbol of the unity of the tribes---quite similar to the thirteen stars on our original American flag. The circle of stones, Gilgal in Hebrew, was where hey would come together to fight against threats to the whole people.