Easter 5 A ~"Laying a Cornerstone in Zion" ~ Rev. Richard Eslinger
Just before today’s Epistle Lesson begins, a prior image is offered as a way to speak of our life in Christ. That famous text appeals to us as “like newborn babies” and urges us, as infants, to crave “spiritual milk” so that by it we may grow into salvation. The image immediately turns us towards those new to the faith and, especially to their journey to Holy Baptism. We see this image powerfully enacted in the early church document that depicts the Easter Vigil in 3 rd century Rome. At the Eucharist, not only are bread and wine presented to the bishop by the deacons for consecration, but also milk and honey. Those gifts become the promise to the newly baptized that they are brought through the waters to the Promised Land.
The text adds that “Christ gave his flesh, through which those who believe are nourished like little children.” 1 Later on, those newly baptized will be able to turn o the adult food of Christian faith, life, and work. We can see this journey most clearly in the church’s rites of Christian Initiation for Adults. There were instructions and teaching for the catechumens during Lent, a season of “spiritual milk” that was to nourish the elect until their baptism at the Vigil. But now,
during these Great Fifty Days, it is time for mystagogy, for a more mature diet of instruction and growth in Christ.
We are not surprised, then, to have our Epistle lesson from the next section of 1 Peter on this 5 th Sunday of Easter. It is time to shift our point of view from that of newborn babies to that of our maturing life in Christ’s church. The entire image system shifts from neonatal dietary concerns to that of the construction of the house of the church. No more baby food. Today (this evening) we are offered some grownup food for thought and prayer.
We first hear that our Lord Jesus is a “living stone” and that we are invited to come to him. Christ the living stone is “chosen and precious in the sight of God.” The metaphor is stretched about as far as you can go in human speech. On one hand, a “stone” is about as dead and lifeless as anything you can imagine. It lacks potency, the ability to do anything on its own. We use stones; they do not use us. “Dead as a stone.” In Tennessee William’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Maggie is a restless, insatiable woman. She deeply wants to be out of her hometown, to seek new places and new adventures. But she is married to a man who has suffered a wound to his leg—he uses a crutch to get around—and a wound to his soul. He is stuck in the past, always talking about his high school football days of glory. Tennessee Williams bestows on this character a telling name—“Brick.” Spiritually, he is a dead as a stone. But the stone that is Christ is a living stone. There is life here, the fullness of resurrection life. Our risen Lord is at the heart of Divine potency and purpose. One African American spiritual sings out,
Ride on King Jesus,
No man can a-hinder thee. 2
Here is life, resurrection life. King Jesus rides triumphantly and “no man can a-hinder thee.” So the writer of this First Letter of Peter takes up the image of a stone and smashes it together with a full expression of life, of King Jesus riding triumphantly through the heavens. “Living stone,” that is our Lord Jesus Christ.
The stone brings to mind the flat stones there in Pilate’s courtyard. The place of his condemnation, of his scourging and humiliation. His blood splattered on these
flat stones as they whipped him before taking him out to the cross. All of this brutality purposely meant to be a scandal. An ultimate degradation and shameful death. Yes, Christ is a stone, one that the builders rejected. But our Lord is the living stone, risen from the dead, who appears behind locked doors after his rising to the disciples who have hidden there. He shows them his hands and feet, scars that still attest to his suffering and death. But now, King Jesus is alive and reigns as our triumphant Lord. He rides on, this King Jesus, this living stone.
Now we become directly involved in this Mystery. “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house,” 1 Peter announces. Well, at least we can agree that we gather together in this holy place, many times, like just stones. Thoughts still focused on things out there in the world. Distracted by our failures and sins. Once again reminded of our faltering faith and some tangible remorse for the way things have gone. Not the Church of Peter the Rock, but that of the Church of the Stones.
But the Epistle writer will not allow us to remain only as those stones. “You are a holy priesthood,” we hear. And baptized into this holy priesthood, we have been blessed as the people of God. In fact, of all the images for the church in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, two stand out: we are the Body of Christ and we are the people of God. Both images of the church are filled with life, with new life in Christ.
We who are this holy priesthood are built into a spiritual house and empowered to offer spiritual sacrifices to God. Those who in this Mass serve at the Offertory by bringing the bread and the wine to the Altar do so as representatives of all of the people of God gathered here this day (evening). The bread that is offered, “It will become for us the bread of life.” The wine that is offered, “It will become our spiritual drink.” Here is the Mystery of Christ’s presence, as we take up the ministry of offering spiritual sacrifices to God. As the risen Body of Christ, we have become living stones, a holy priesthood. Chosen of God to know eternal life and to proclaim Christ to the entire world.
So our God has built up this “spiritual house” with Christ as the chief cornerstone. One Easter antiphon sings, “The stone that the builders have rejected has become the Cornerstone. Alleluia!” And we are being built into this spiritual house, each of us a living stone. One biblical scholar has noted that this Mystery “might invite us to consider resurrection as a site of repurposed life and reconstruction.” 3 A “house of the Spirit,” the term could be translated. The Holy Spirit at work within us and among us in this project of reconstruction.
We who are these living stones are always “under construction.” This work of the Spirit involves countless signs of our repurposed lives: For some of us, there has been a movement to a support community to heal an addiction. And the “Under Reconstruction” sign marks our journey. Others of us are finding deeper faith in a Cursillo weekend and even in becoming part of a Cursillo team. Another sign of being “Under Reconstruction.” In one town visited by lots of tourists, at the exit of the local supermarket, there is a large box with the message “Donate to the St. Francis Food Bank.” And as we care for the poor (name ministry as appropriate), that sign could also indicate that (name of the parish) is “Under Reconstruction.”
Our God is building us up into a spiritual house with Christ as the chief cornerstone. We are perennially “under reconstruction” for living stones do not repose among the dead. The world rejects Christ and finds him a stumbling rock. We may be rejected too, if we are built into his House of the Spirit. But he is the chief cornerstone and the Holy Spirit is acting this day (this evening) to continue the Divine work of reconstruction. Christ is made our sure foundation, for “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Alleluia!”
Even in the midst of reconstruction,
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people of God’s own,
so that you may announce the praises of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, XX, c. 217, in James F. White, ed., Documents of Christian Worship: Descriptive and Interpretative Sources (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992), 187.
2 See: “Ride on King Jesus,”
3 Shively Smith, “Commentary on 1 Peter 2:2-10,” Working Preacher, May 10, 2020,