2023-05-07 Easter 5
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
It’s hard to believe but 12 years ago this month the world was reeling from the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. There was a million people on site while another 2 Billion watched the event unfold on TV and the Internet! At the time that was an entire 1/3 of all the people on planet earth! People were camping out in the streets days in advance of the big event. Britons took 327 million photographs of that wedding! And now, in 2023, the world is still in “Royal Mode” after the Coronation of King Charles III and Her Majesty The Queen Consort yesterday. In a ceremony dating back to 1066, King Charles was the 40th Monarch to be crowned at Westminster Abbey.
I’m sure the brew-ha-ha will continue for days and weeks to come. But one thing about the Coronation stuck out to me. And that was the “Stone of Scone.” Did you see that? It’s the 336 pound sandstone rock that was originally used for crowning Scottish Kings but was then taken as a spoil of war by the British in 1296 under Edward I. It’s not all that remarkable of an object, really. It has a simple Latin cross as its only ornament - a far cry from the usual opulence that accompanies the Royals. However, according to Celtic legend, this stone was Jacob’s “pillow” when he rested at Bethel and had the visions of the angels on the ladder between heaven and earth! (Gen 28:10-22). From thence it is said the rock has travelled the world from Egypt to Sicily and Spain to Ireland before finally arriving in England. But then in 1950, on Christmas Morning, Scottish Nationals stole the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey and took it back to Scotland! Four months later the British got it back, only to give it back to the Scots in 1996! Talk about a Rolling Stone, eh?!
It’s truly uncanny how our scripture readings appointed for today are chock full of “Royal Rocks.” St. Peter writes: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (1Pet 2:4-6). We don’t think too much of this idea. We think about church buildings and how they almost always have a cornerstone or a stone of dedication ceremony, take a few pictures, cut a yellow ribbon, eat some cake, and we go about our day. But in the ancient world, it was a much bigger deal. The cornerstone was considered a sacred thing. There were elaborate rituals that accompanied it. In the pagan world this took a dark turn, almost always involving sacrifice and even human sacrifice, like building infants into the walls of the building! Very disturbing stuff. But in the Christian world, the cornerstone was seen as sacred and holy and that sacredness and holiness was then seen as a source of blessing the construction process and the whole building once it was completed. You can see how this idea would be applied to the Temple and other places of worship for the Lord.
St. Peter literally builds on this idea. Jesus is the cornerstone. We are the “living stones” being assembled into this temple of God. And then, St. Peter makes another jump. Not only are you the building of God but you are also the people who serve in God’s building. “A holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Then he jumps back to the cornerstone idea, citing verses from the Old Testament: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” His point here is that Christ our Lord was rejected, first by the Jews then by the Gentiles, but regardless He still remains that sacred cornerstone on which everything else is built. For those who do not believe, this stone is a stumbling block and an offensive thing to be shunned and disregarded. But, for those who believe, He is a sacred and precious source of honor that gives forgiveness, life and salvation.
St. Peter continues: “9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 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.” He’s making the connection between Israel of the Old Testament and now the Church of the New Testament. It’s the community of faithful people. A people who have been drawn from the darkness of the pagan world and its ways of sin into the marvelous light of God’s Kingdom. From a homeless and disorganized group of wanderers into a unified people - God’s people built on the solid foundation of Christ our Lord. And as Peter also said in our Acts reading: ” And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (4:12).
Luther and classical Lutheran theology made a big deal about this. Luther’s entire “Priesthood of All Believers” doctrine comes to the forefront. Through faith alone in Christ all people share a one-ness. We are Baptized into this same one-ness, unified together by God’s grace. We share the same VIP status in God’s sight through faith. In this way, Pastors and Laypeople aren’t on higher or lower plains of importance. A Pastor is no more important than a caterer or an accountant or a garbage man. Rather we just carryout different tasks. We are all brought into this priesthood of faith. And what do priests do, especially in the Old Testament? They offered sacrifices. This is Peter’s point precisely: “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1Pet 2:5).
Jesus our Lord offered the greatest sacrifice of all on the Cross. This same sacrifice becomes ours in Holy Baptism and in Holy Communion. And now, being washed and fed as God’s people, we seek also to imitate our Lord. We in turn offer our own sacrifices. The Scriptures tell us exactly what this means: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (PS 51:17). This is repentance. This is sorrow for our sins and a deliberate turning away from them. This humble way is the only way God accepts us. Not through works or greatness, but rather in humility and brokenness. And, this becomes the first sacrifice we offer as God’s priests, confessing our sins and receiving God’s forgiveness. The next sacrifice comes from St. Paul writing in Romans 12: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (1-2). The world will always try to form us to its standards. And those standards are almost always sinful and contrary to God’s will - not unlike the pagans of old who sacrificed their infants and built them into the walls of their pagan temples. We as God’s people cannot be conformed to the clown world and its crazy anything-goes ideas. You need to get your morals from the Scriptures - not the fake news or the whacky government. God’s Word tells us what is right and what is wrong. And it is this that we must be conformed to.
St. Paul continues on when he talks about our sacrifice: “9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom 12:9-13). This is how we make sacrifice as God’s priests. This is how the world is changed, one heart at a time. This is what our Lord is calling you to do and to be as His chosen and precious people, built on Christ the eternal cornerstone now and forever more. Amen!
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!