5th Sunday of Easter
May 18, 2014
1 Pet 2: 4-9
Iona College, New Rochelle
“Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God thru Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2: 5).
Psalm 118 (v. 22) speaks of a stone rejected by builders that becomes the cornerstone of a building anyway, by God’s design rather than by the builders’ planning. Jesus cited this verse with reference to himself (Matt 21:42). St. Peter quotes it in his preaching in the Acts of the Apostles (4:11) and St. Paul in his letters (Rom 9:33). It’s quoted yet again in Peter’s 1st Epistle, our 2d reading this evening.
Jesus is the cornerstone of a spiritual house, a temple, that God’s building for his own glory. Jesus is a living stone—we don’t think of stones as living, but we’re dealing with a metaphor. Nor do we think of the dead as living. But God the Father raised Jesus from the dead and made him into this living stone, “chosen and precious in his sight” (2:4).
Jesus isn’t just any stone, but the cornerstone. A whole spiritual house rests on him. Upon him, risen, fully alive forever in the heavenly kingdom, God will rest all of redeemed humanity, the spiritual house of the entire people of God, the house of the new Israel. In a well-known passage of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells Simon son of Jonah that the community of his Church will be built upon Simon as the petros, the rock or stone foundation (Matt 16:18). And in Revelation the 12 apostles are the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem (21:14). In short, the Christian Church is the temple of God, and Jesus is its cornerstone. In the Church God is worshipped more perfectly than he ever was in the earthly Temple of Jerusalem while it existed, from its 1st building by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. to its rebuilding by Nehemiah in the 5th century B.C. to its final destruction by the Roman army in 70 A.D.
This new, spiritual temple built upon the cornerstone of Jesus Christ and the foundation stones of the apostles also needs us, “living stones,” for its completion. To continue the metaphor, we disciples of Jesus are the walls and the roof and the decorative work on this great temple. Like Christ risen, we are alive. That refers not to our physical life—not yet, anyway, until our bodies are made new and Christ-like on Judgment Day. No, we’re already “living stones” when we enjoy God’s grace, when we recognize his love for us in Christ and share that love with all God’s children: with our families, with the people we work with, with people we meet on the street and in the supermarket, with people on the other side of the world (thru our prayer and, at times, our financial generosity).
St. Peter seems to switch metaphors, calling us also “a holy priesthood,” the priests who worship in this temple built upon Christ. That also is an Old Testament allusion, quoted at greater length toward the end of today’s reading (Ex 19:6). All baptized persons share in Christ’s priesthood by virtue of our having been anointed with sacred chrism—an anointing reinforced or confirmed in a 2d sacrament of our Christian initiation, with sacred chrism again.
The holy oil that we call chrism, which can be consecrated only by the bishop in a special Mass, the Chrism Mass, during Holy Week, conforms us to Christ, the Anointed One of God, in his triple office of priest, prophet, and king. That oil is used only in the 3 sacraments that can’t be repeated, the 3 sacraments that permanently seal or brand a person—tattoo him or her, if you will!—as belonging to Christ, viz., the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders.
So, you who’ve been baptized and confirmed share in Jesus’ priesthood. While that priesthood isn’t the same as the ministerial priesthood conferred by ordination, it does empower you to worship God “in spirit and truth,” as Jesus says in John’s Gospel during his conversation with the Samaritan woman (4:23). It empowers you to offer sacrifice—which is what priests do—to offer an “acceptable sacrifice,” as we say during Mass, thru the hands of the ordained priest.
St. Peter tells us that as holy priests we offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God thru Jesus Christ.” “Thru Jesus Christ,” because it’s in his priesthood that we participate, and ultimately it’s his sacrifice that we offer to the Father—his Body and Blood offered for our redemption.
Our sacrifice is spiritual now, as we offer up Christ on this altar thru his sacred mysteries that place us, all at once, in the Upper Room at the Last Supper, at Calvary, at the empty tomb, and at the eternal banquet. No longer do God’s people offer physical sacrifices of animals and first fruits of their crops as they did in the Temple at Jerusalem. We are the new temple of God offering a new sacrifice, under the terms of the new covenant that Christ established as he founded a new people of God.
This Eucharistic sacrifice we all offer to God, according to our respective offices, and we all confirm our participation in the sacrifice by consuming the offering—the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Our offering Jesus in sacrifice isn’t the only spiritual sacrifice that we Christian priests offer to God. We also offer ourselves: our lives, our virtuous actions, our pains and sufferings, our hopes and fears—in short, everything about ourselves except our sins. Our priesthood thus encompasses our whole selves, all our lives, every day—whatever we can offer to God in union with Jesus Christ. This union with Jesus makes everything except our sins “acceptable to God” as a sacrificial offering, and makes us holy—“a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” (1 Pet 2:9), to the glory of God.