Come to him [Christ], a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourself be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. — 1 Peter 2:4-5.
This week I have been pondering this verse, taken from the First Letter of Peter, which will be proclaimed this Sunday at many Christian churches throughout the world.
Peter—whose name means “rock”– calls Christ a living stone, and later in the passage, a cornerstone, the important foundation for the beginning of a building. He also calls us living stones that God is building into a spiritual house or temple. Although each one of us is uniquely gifted, each one of us has our identity and space in the building, our relationship to each other. Individually, we are loved by God, but together we form something even better and bigger than ourselves, the “spiritual house” God is building.
Having been raised Catholic, I can’t help but notice that Peter, the Rock, whom many call the first pope, doesn’t say anything about popes, cardinals, bishops, or other hierarchy in this reading. All are “rocks,” built together upon the Cornerstone, Christ. Peter calls all of us together a holy priesthood, whose purpose is to offer spiritual sacrifices to God.
But what is meant by living stones?
Unlike inanimate matter, Peter doesn’t want us to just “sit there,” motionless. We are to be strong, like rocks, in our faith in God, no matter what the weather brings, but we are also to be alive, growing, moving, and changing more and more each day into the image of Christ.
Churches who use the Revised Common Lectionary this Sunday, will hear the words of Peter just prior to these verses, and I think it’s worth looking at how these verses illuminate what the writer meant by “living” stones. Just before he writes about the living stones, Peter writes:
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)
At first I didn’t think there was any connection between this verse on drinking spiritual milk and the living stones. However, the original text would not have had paragraph indentations and periods at the end of sentences. The writer was flowing from one thought to the next.
Peter exhorts us to long for spiritual milk from God (food like Eucharist?), so that we can keep growing in the Lord. We forget to consider that in biblical times there was no packaged infant formula. The only way an infant was fed was directly from the mother’s body (or a “wet nurse”). The original hearers would have imaged a mother feeding her baby when they heard this verse and perhaps thought of God as feeding them directly from himself in the Eucharistic feast. (I am not the first person to think of this. See May 5th post.)
Although we must be strong in faith, like rocks, we are also to be fluid, moving, and growing, like a newborn baby. God is both the builder who is creating a strong church community and the mother who is feeding us directly with God’s self. (I think of Eucharist here, but I suppose additionally, in a mystical sense, the Spirit feeds us in the depths of our hearts as well.)
If you stop to think about it, these are amazing ideas: a God who is constantly supporting us, feeding us, building us up, not only individually, but together, in interdependent relationships.
O God, Sacred Builder and Divine Nurturer, help us to be strong as rocks in our faith in You, and as innocent and reliant upon You as a newborn baby is upon his or her mother.
Until next time, Amen!