Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner’,
‘A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,* in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy. — 1 Peter 2:4-10
Reading the passage this morning, my brain suddenly began playing a favorite hymn of mine, “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation.” Reading the scripture accompanied by the tune in my head laid some emphasis on both and their interconnectedness.
Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone,
chosen of the Lord, and precious,
binding all the Church in one;
holy Zion’s help for ever,
and her confidence alone.*
There are two definition of cornerstone. One is a stone that forms the base of the intersection of two walls of a building. Often it is a decorative as well as functional part of the building, often carrying some mark such as the date the cornerstone was laid or some other commemoration. It is sometimes used to mark the official beginning of construction even though the foundations may have been poured days, weeks or months before. It’s a visible sign of hope and progress.
The second definition is a bit more abstract, giving “cornerstone” as a feature or quality upon which something is based, like a thesis statement or creed. This epistle, whether written by Peter, an amanuensis or even someone not so closely related to Peter, used the imagery already established in Psalm 118:22 and also in Acts 4:11. The metaphor of a rejected piece of stone being chosen as the very thing upon which the building stands is a perfect one for Jesus, even though the Psalm wasn’t itself directly or indirectly referencing him. It is through him, however, that the church is built even though he was rejected by many of his fellow Jews and definitely by the Romans during his lifetime. We also know that as Christians, Jesus has to be the cornerstone of our faith and even though the cornerstone is strong is up to us to make the building of our faith match that strength.
Earlier this week we had a reading from Hebrews that referenced the priesthood of Melchizedek, a non-Israelite King who acted as a priest in the story of Abraham. The author of this epistle seemed to also pick up on the priesthood theme in the statement, “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s chosen people.” Unlike the Levitical priesthood of Judaism, the priesthood of those who follow Christ includes the whole of the people, not just a single tribes set apart or a heretical hierarchy of priests. Again, building on the cornerstone image, the priesthood of the entire church is given through Jesus to all people. Yes, we did develop a sacramental priesthood just as we developed a role for deacons when the need arose. Still, all Christians are priests by virtue of their baptism and that baptism is the laying of the cornerstone of Christ in each Christian’s life.
All that dedicated city,
dearly loved of God on high,
in exultant jubilation
pours perpetual melody;
God the One in Three adoring
in glad hymns eternally.
To this temple, where we call thee,
come, O Lord of Hosts, today;
with thy wonted loving-kindness
hear thy servants as they pray,
and thy fullest benediction
shed within its walls alway.
Here vouchsafe to all thy servants
what they ask of thee to gain;
what they gain from thee, for ever
with the blessèd to retain,
and hereafter in thy glory
evermore with thee to reign.
Somehow, I think that when I sing this hymn again or hear it again, I’ll have a slightly different perspective of what it has to say. It’s an invitation for God to enter the building of faith we construct in our own lives as well as the physical buildings in which we worship. It’s a request for God’s continual presence and blessing both in this life and in the world to come.
The cornerstone. Without it the building would not be a building and the Christian life would be like a tent blowing in the wind. Without Jesus as the focus and , faith would be just as flimsy
You know, I think I like this hymn even better now.
*Hymnal 1982, New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation, (518).