The readings for this sermon are based on 1 Peter 2:1-10
1 Peter 2:6 reads ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’
The first letter of Peter is a letter whose primary intent is to offer to its readers instruction in the Christian life and a vision of what it means to be part of the Church universal. So the image of Jesus as the cornerstone certainly sets out to say something about Jesus, but it also sets out to say something about Jesus in the context of the Church.
Jesus as the Cornerstone
The image of a cornerstone is something that would have been familiar to anyone who had been to Jerusalem in Jesus’ time. The cornerstones that were used by King Herod to rebuild the Jerusalem temple were up to 39 feet long and weighed about 400 tons. So when the disciples exclaim in Mark 13:1, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’ the description of these stones as ‘magnificent’ wasn’t an exaggeration. I don’t know about you, but I have trouble imagining what a stone that is 39 feet long could possibly look like. If you think how many stones had gone in to the building of the Temple itself, you begin to get an idea of the magnificence of Herod’s Temple.
And I suspect that the image of buildings and stones and cornerstones into today’s Epistle reading is meant to make its readers think about the Temple in Jerusalem. Because as most of the Gospels tell the story of Jesus, Jesus makes the claim to being the replacement of Temple. The Jerusalem Temple was, for pious Jews, the centre of all creation because God himself was present in the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was the place where earth and heaven met. And it was the place where the high priest made atonement for the sins of the people of Israel on the Day of Atonement.
The Temple was holy, the Temple Mount was holy and the city of Jerusalem was holy. And Jesus, according to the Early Christians, was a ‘replacement’ for the Temple. Not only the one true and final sacrifice, but our great high priest and, indeed the person in whom heaven and earth met.
So, I’d like to suggest to you that although the metaphor of Jesus as the cornerstone might seem a bit – dare I say it? – wooden – at first glace, I think that if you chip just a little bit deeper, you will find some wonderful and glorious truths laying just below the façade. Truths that are fit for the celebration of the Easter season and which are not just about the basic idea that the person of Jesus is foundational to the Christian faith.
The New Creation
But as I said earlier, the first letter of Peter is a letter whose primary intent is to give instruction in the Christian life and a vision of what it means to be part of the Church universal. So, this vision of Jesus as the cornerstone of the house of God is not just a vision about who Jesus is, but it’s also a vision of who we are and what we are called to be as his disciples.
As the author puts it: as the church, we are ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God’ If Jesus is God’s chosen son, the church is his chosen people. If Jesus is the great and final high priest, the church is a royal priesthood. If Jerusalem is the holy city, the church is a holy nation.
All of the above are images of how the people of Israel saw themselves and now the author of the letter of Peter is extending these attributes to the Church.
Here I need to give the usual warnings against anti-Semitism. We should not see the church as a ‘new dispensation’ where Christians replace the people of Israel as God’s new chosen but exclusive people. Rather it is the revelation that God’s covenant with Noah and Moses and Abraham was never meant to be an exclusive covenant. The covenant was never meant to create categories of people whom God excluded because of who they were. God’s covenant was meant to be for all people of all tribes and nations and backgrounds.
Once we were not a people, but now we are a people. Once we had not received mercy but now we have received mercy.
God’s Good News turned out to be better than anyone could have imagined! His covenant is meant for everyone. His Kingdom, his Temple, his salvation is meant for everyone.
This is Good News for us – the church – and it’s good news for everyone. It’s a glorious picture of who Jesus is and why he came. Jesus is the cornerstone of the New Temple and the New Creation. And the good news is that everyone is invited to be a part of it. God’s purposes are for everyone. The New Creation that God is building is intended for all creation and for all of humankind.
So where does the Church come into all of this? The author of this letter tells us that we are to declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.
It is the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News of God’s New Creation. It is the mission of the Church to proclaim that the old order has passed away and that the resurrection is the evidence that God is doing a new thing. We are to enlighten the world that God’s salvation is not offered just to a chosen few, but that it is offered to all of humankind – to all people. We are called to enlighten the world that death and destruction do not have the final word but that God is a God of life and creation. We are called to live in such a way that our lives reflect the love of Christ and serve to illuminate The Way in which we are to walk.
It’s my prayer that, as we come as a community to the Lord’s Table this morning [evening], that we may be filled with the love of Christ, our cornerstone and our great high priest. May we each be given a vision of the New Creation and be filled with the hope of the resurrection. Most of all I pray that, along with the rest of the Christian Church, that we will each look to the light of Christ and reflect that light back into the world. Amen