Sunday, May 22, 2011

On our becoming the perfect ashlar…

For us who inhabit modern places of abode and who labor in contemporary edifices, buildings made of stones seem to be no longer a common sight. What we have become familiar with are structures fortified by cement, steel, hard plastics, strong rubber and even glass. Stones, as natural source of strength, have been replaced by a combination of other elements proven to be less cumbersome; materials that are more easily available and exceed building code requirements.

While buildings made of stones may now be a rare sight, nonetheless, they are still around in other places; in ruins of ancient structures, for example. Stones are also very much an essential components of structures like cathedrals and palaces but the more common picture of the contemporary usefulness of stones for the purpose of architecture and the erection of superstructures is now undoubtedly coming to an end. They’re almost non-existent.

But then, again, maybe not. Buildings made of stones are still a common sight in the Middle East. Everywhere you go, from the hot banks of the Dead Sea to the summits of holy mountains, stones are everywhere. From the ruins of Jericho to the walls of Jerusalem, stones still abound. People who had been to the Holy Land are so privileged in that they are able to see centuries of history as they view ruins of edifices made of stones.

Having said this, I’d like to draw your attention to the Second Reading appointed for the Fifth Sunday of Easter; taken from the First Letter of Peter, as this lesson contains the imagery of stones, especially of “living stones” which both apply to the very cornerstone upon which our spiritual edifice is built and of the very purpose of our connectedness with God in and through Christ Jesus.

In that cited passage of Holy Scriptures, Peter says: "Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ," (RSV 1 Peter 2:4-5). 

Just as Peter summoned his listeners then so does he now tell us to look to that “Living Stone” and in the very act of doing it, be ourselves transformed into “living stones”, fit to become the finest material needed by the Great Architect in building not only that celestial lodge, that spiritual building, not made by hands, eternal in the heavens but also as the finest materials that faith communities or the whole people of God are ought to be made of.

To better appreciate the process of transitioning into living stone, I propose that we familiarize ourselves with a few basic things in operative masonry.

Stones are generally hewn from quarries and in their crude form are referred to as “rough ashlars”. They are called rough since they contain a good number of superfluous characters and so to make them fit for the builders’ use, the superfluous parts are removed by means of an instrument called a common gavel.

Once the unwanted parts are removed, they’re then called “perfect ashlars” and are now fit for use in the erection of an edifice. One of these refined ashlars is then chosen to be the first stone, usually laid in the northeast corner and is considered as the cornerstone. After this cornerstone has been laid down, the rest of the ashlars are laid out, stone after stone, and ultimately, patterned after the design drawn in the builder’s Trestleboard, a stately edifice is erected, standing strong and intended to endure the rigors of nature.

This process in operative masonry was so common in olden days and authors of some books of the Holy Scriptures used this imagery of stone building to reflect the relationship and connectivity which God has intended for His creation.

The Apostle Peter, very much aware that his intended listeners were already familiar with how magnificent edifices are built, used this imagery as well and thus summoned them to regard the importance of Christ Jesus in their lives, in a manner they can relate to.  He implored his listeners to look into Christ Jesus as that “living stone”, the very cornerstone of the spiritual edifice that God the Father desired to have. Peter also invited his readers to be like “living stones” as well, and as such, be built into the spiritual building, be a holy priesthood and lastly to be able to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.

To turn from being rough ashlars into becoming perfect ones, fit for the builders’ use, is both a privilege and a responsibility. We are so privileged to become “living stones” by the grace and mercy of God Almighty, the Great Artificer of the Universe.  It is also through God’s grace that we become “living stones and cornerstones” whose responsibility is to assure the strength and integrity of a God-fearing community; that it will be a sure foundation able to withstand the rigors of delusional concepts.

Being living stones means being alive in Christ. It’s about discipleship, following Christ's declaration that his followers will be his "witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). It means living with the confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in the hearts and minds of all who call upon the Lord.

It also means being missional, always in mission with God and being a witness of God's good news for all people. We are called to be witnesses to all people. We are called into this holistic mission and to witness not just about a narrowly defined talk of Christ or just about the Church. It is about living the reality of Christ's presence with one another and with the world. The world cries out with so many demands: demands for justice and peace; for food and shelter; for healing and comfort.  In the face of such overwhelming challenges, we often are silenced by a tragic sense of helplessness or even apathy. We are silenced by those who want to muzzle God’s message of hope and liberation and transformation, proclaimed through the church.

Becoming living stones means, therefore, that we don’t succumb to those pressures; that we withstand that temptation by the strength of the Holy Spirit that empowers us amidst all these trials. We pray that our witness can always reflect this holiness lest we cease to become the living stones that God hopes us to be.

And so, as we continue to celebrate the season of Easter, always rejoicing with the entire faith communities the mystery of Resurrection, let us also continue in beseeching God to afford us the privilege of becoming living stones, fit for the use of that Great Artificer of the Universe. Let us allow God to cleanse and rid us of our superfluous characters and let us supplicate the Holy Spirit to empower us in the pursuit of that which is holy and that which is just and merciful.

It will always be a challenge to get engaged in this transition but as any mason will tell you, the perfect ashlar stands out among others. Would you not rather be one?

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