First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Easter 5

William Loader

Easter 5: 10 May 1 Peter 2:2-10

The imagery of birth met us already back in 1:3 and it repeated itself in 1:23. Another theme is holiness, which featured especially in 1:14-15 and reappears in 1:22. The new born life contrasts with the old ways against which 1:13-14 warns, a warning repeated in 2:1. That warning properly begins chapter 2, but our passages drops that introduction and moves directly to the image of the suckling infant. We should not, however, forget this context. We are soon to hear of construction of a holy place and life in holy priesthood. All this belongs within a setting where sharp demarcations are being made. The feeding is for growth. The goal is salvation which is clearly something much more than future hope. It includes belonging in a holy community.

Our passage is a patchwork of allusions and quotations of biblical texts so much so that we could easily imagine that the writer has a document on the table which lists the relevant texts. The first is our Psalm 34:8, "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (2:3). For us the image connects with the eucharist, but it is even wider than that. The word of the gospel whether expressed in words, sacrament or action nourishes us with the goodness of God. Here in 2:4 the goodness of God is identified with the goodness of Christ. The Psalm now serves as a vehicle for Christian faith.

The image of the stone comes with 2:4 and remains with us as the focus of reflection as various biblical allusions to stones, probably already widely in use in the Christian community, elaborate the theme. 2:4 speaks of the precious chosen stone which people have rejected. 2:6 gives us the source of "precious chosen" and 2:7 the source of the rejected stone. Isaiah 28:16 supplies the first; Psalm 118:22, the second. The third stone text is Isaiah 8:14, which speaks of the rock over which people stumble (2:8). Paul also uses Isaiah 28:16 and 8:14 together in Romans 9:33. A little earlier (9:24-25) he also cites Hosea 2:25, about a people who were not God's people becoming God's people, an allusion which our passage brings in 2:10. These are "favourite verses" among those who sought to use scripture to explain Israel's rejection of Christ and the Gentiles' positive response. The use of Psalm 118:22 about the rejected stone becoming head of the corner meets us also as one of the first interpretations of the parable of the wicked tenants who kill the owner's son (Mark 12:1-12). It may rest on a Hebrew play on words between son and stone (ben and eben).

Here the story of rejection is doubtless meant to resonate with the experience of the believers, including new believers who might feel themselves as just babes of faith. The stone image is, however, about more than rejection and rehabilitation. It belongs to the notion of building. Salvation is not just a promise to individuals to offer them individual hope. It is a call to community. The stone imagery invites us to see ourselves also as stones and then to see ourselves together as not a random pile of rocks or stones strewn across the landscape of interim territory, but as stones belonging to a structure built on Christ. It is a wonderful image of belonging. It invites us to our own imaginings and reflections: stones are old, young, brittle, strong, shiny; fractured, solid, large, small, differently shaped and oriented - there's room for everyone.

The image expands to include not only belonging in a building, but also belonging in creating a space for celebrating the presence of God. It is a rich image, popular at the time. People together are sacred places and spaces, temples not made with hands. It defines the church not as the building in which we meet but as the building we have become. Our role is to be a space where people engage holiness and sense the presence of God. Inevitably the image also breaks down because the structure of the imagery is inadequate to hold the fullness of meaning which these thoughts evoke. This permits the writer to draw on another favourite text by which Israel defined itself: Exodus 19:6. Now not Israel, but the new believers drawn from among both Jews and Gentiles are to be a "priestly kingdom, a holy nation" (Exod 19:6), or as our text puts it: "a chosen people, a royal priesthood", combined then with Isaiah: 43:21, a people formed for God to own.

The author is not thinking of two orders: priestly and lay, but of the whole people performing a priestly role. The community represented as a building built on Christ the rejected cornerstone is to be place of holiness, engaged in the liturgies and sacrifices of praise. While this will reflect practices of worship, it has more to do with effects. People who have received compassion have received God's gift and it is there to celebrate and to share with all. That gift stands in the way of those who pursue power and deny compassion. The stone, let alone the building, is an irritant for them. The image, however, lets itself be remoulded for them, plastered to look nice (with jagged edges worn down and unfitting stones that are different discarded) so that it becomes a hall for celebrating pomp and power and playing chaplain to its ambitions. Oddly when the church looks too good and as if it has the stability to go on forever, it quickly loses connection with its foundations.

First Reading: Easter 5: 10 May Acts 7:55-60
Easter 5: 10 May John 14:1-14