Living stones

If I were preaching this morning, I might want to say something about living stones.

(I was not preaching this morning; our Senior Warden offered a strong word of grace and encouragement. Nevertheless:)

When Jesus entered Jerusalem and the people sang and chanted and waved branches and coats and created a holy cacophony, some asked Jesus to ask the crowd to tone it down.

“If these were silent,” he said, “the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:40)

Have you ever wandered through an old graveyard, reading the tombstones, wondering about the stories that they tell? Most give little away. Many speak names, dates, perhaps a close relationship or two. My mother’s stone has the fragment of a poem I wrote for her funeral, but when she was dying she chose a different epitaph. One day, when I visited, she was repeating the same phrase over and over, in her absent murmur: “well loved. Well loved.” She was well loved.

Stones have little space for ambiguity or nuance. They are hard-nosed, they get straight to the point. They do not give up extra flourishes easily. “Well loved” is the kind of distillation of a life they can support. Names, dates, and one salient detail to sum up the measure of a man, or a mother.

When Peter’s letter wrote that we should become living stones, chosen and precious, it might have had in mind (it might not) the kind of exercise that asks, “What will be on your tombstone?” An examination of our cornerstone values, our foundational tenets, and whether or not not they are reflected in the facades of our lives; whether they would be recognized and rendered by those who will choose the word or phrase by which we will be recognized and remembered, that our stones will speak for us.

“Well loved,” my mother said. I suppose that I would like to be remembered for having loved well, but the truth is that always I have relied on the love and mercy, the forbearance and forgiveness of others, which is why the Gospel holds such appeal for me: if all else fails, the churchyard will bear witness that God had mercy on my mortality; that by God’s grace, the first and last word the stones shout is of love.


Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. …
…Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2: 4-5,10)

 

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