How is Christ our Cornerstone?

“Christ is our cornerstone,

On Him alone we build.”

Hymnal:  Worship Book #43

            “A cornerstone is a largely ornamental architectural feature.” -Encyc. Brit. (unknown ed.)

In celebration of our church’s one-hundredeth anniversary, the pastor had carefully chiseled away the crumbling mortar from around the stone.  As people of the community, former and current church members watched, he carefully slid the stone onto the stand prepared for it.  A small metal box was removed from a recess in the stone.  From it came a few coins, a decaying newspaper and a moldy Bible.  Later, the first cornerstone was replaced with a new, hermetically sealed container with new ingredients in the recess in the stone.  In the weeks between the removal of the stone and its replacement, the church building, minus the cornerstone, stood, and the church (people)  continued normal activities.  The still functioning, cornerstone-less building remained in my memory.

Singing “Christ is our cornerstone” reminded me of the earlier experience.  Having recently studied the scripture referring to Christ as the capstone, I wondered how the capstone and cornerstone were related.  While beginning some research on this topic, I asked several people what the image suggested to them.  “Christ is the foundation, something strong and firm.” one offered.  Later she agreed that she didn’t distinguish between Christ the foundation stone, and the  corner foundation stone .  A song leader offered that “cornerstone” suggested a rock with it’s strength and solidity*.  Another said that the cornerstone was the one by which the foundation was set straight.  After these comments, I still felt the dissonance of the song and dictionary definition.  My research turned up some clarification.

In the modern era, most buildings do not have a functional cornerstone. I have not been able to find out when the load bearing function of the cornerstone ended.  I did find some information about a commercial building in Chicago (early 20th century) that was thought to be the last commercial building with a load bearing foundation.  I am still trying to find out when the “surveying” function of the cornerstones (plural) was no longer important.

During the time the Psalms were written, foundations were seldom laid with dressed or finished stone.  Rough stones were used.  For Solomon’s temple, however, dressed stones were used for the entire foundation  I Kings 7:9-10 which reports that the stones used were eight and ten cubits (12 to 15 feet) and that they were all trimmed with a saw on the inner and outer surfaces.  The first stone laid was carefully squared and finished to line up the rest of the foundation wall.  The other corners had some of the same function, but the first was the “chief” cornerstone.  The rest of the wall was laid up, often without mortar.  Fresh cut stones would dry and settle together.  Some of these foundations remain today, cut so precisely, a knife blade could not be stuck between the stones.

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. Isaiah 28:16

Since uniform, ready-made stone was not used, some irregularities would result so that the last space to be filled required a stone not exactly the size of the others.  Since this was the final stone a good fit would tie the wall together.  A stone which previously had been set aside might be used because it was an exact fit.  This was the capstone, the one that tied together the wall and fit exactly.  Laying the last stone was a ceremonial occasion as

“What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of `God bless it! God bless it!’ Zechariah 4:7

In the New Testament, Jesus is seen as both the chief cornerstone and the capstone.

For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone, 1 Peter 2:6, 7

If we believe our eyes and experience, we understand that in our day, a cornerstone is a decorative repository of items from the past history of a church or other institution.  A closer look at the world of the Bible helps us see how the people of Jesus time used this image to move toward an understanding of him.  I hope this helps.

Jesus is the first stone and the last, the “tested” stone, the one that determines that the rest of the building is well-build, solid, and will stand.  He is the final stone, the one that just fits and holds the building together.

 

*The image of the cornerstone and stone or rock overlap.   I have pursued these images in another blog, “On being chips off  the old Rock.”

“Tell him I am faint with love” Seeking the Bible’s model male lover

 

With that declaration (Song of Songs 5:8 NET), the woman in the “Songs” comes close to a declaration of her feelings, even though indirect.  But, what about males.  How do we determine the ideal Biblical male lover?  What criteria identifies him?  Big, strong?  Handsome?  Ready to verbalize his feelings and commitment?  Where do we find an example to follow?

Hosea is often seen as a model of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Aren’t mercy and forgiveness qualities of an ideal lover?  But, wait, Gomer, Hosea’s lover was a prostitute.  She left him after bearing Hosea a child to go back to the street.  He showed his love by rescuing her again from that life.  Was that romantic?

One should, of course, go to the Song of Songs.  Most versions of the Bible these days prefer to use this name rather than “Songs of Solomon”.  Modern ideas of monogamy can’t comprehend the number of wives and concubines ascribed to Solomon by his biographers.  Building a separate palace for an Egyptian princess didn’t really seem romantic (Did she nag? Have bad breath? Just need a place to do strange-to-the-Hebrews religious things?).  The “Song” has some wonderful lines and should be read by lovers, but why doesn’t he/she come out and say the right words to the other.  And the guy, to say “Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus.”  What was he thinking?  But, then there is 7:12. . ..  —But, these days where can you find a grove of pomegranates?

Then, there is David.  Which of his loves do we begin with?  Abigail has a good publicist: “Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite.”  (I Sam. 25:3)  Did her actions show her to be such?  Show David to be a model lover?

“Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. 40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.”

I have read some Christian romantic fiction and none of them ended that way.

Then, there’s the next verse:David had also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both were his wives. 44 But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel[d] son of Laish, who was from Gallim.”   (But remember seven chapters earlier?  “Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. -I Sam 18:20)

Let’s not move on to Bathsheba or wonder about who David’s mother or why David’s children had so many problems with their love lives.  Maybe we should look elsewhere for model Biblical lovers?

Maybe Jacob?

Since Jacob had fallen in love with Rachel, he said, “I’ll serve you seven years in exchange for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban replied, “I’d rather give her to you than to another man. Stay with me.” 20 So Jacob worked for seven years to acquire Rachel. But they seemed like only a few days to him because his love for her was so great.  (Gen. 29:18-20)

Well, then he settled for Leah and waited for another seven for Rachel.  Fourteen years?  Well, that’s romantic!  At least we know he had fallen in love.  Wonder if he had told her that.  At the well?  At Leah’s wedding?  After 14 years?  Maybe after he was given Leah’s or Rachel’s servant for a concubine?  I guess Biblical loves were different.

What about Boaz?  There was something a bit romantic about the way they got together during the harvest festival (with coaching from Naomi), but without much clarity about Boaz’ style as a romantic hero.  At least that pile of newly-harvested grain was warm.

Then there is Isaac who had a servant to do his courting.  But, it turned out all right, apparently.

    Then Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took her as his wife and            loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. Gen. 24:67 (NET)

Background

One needs to remember that the Hebrew Bible was written by men and has as its focus the relationship between humans and God.  From that we understand why many have seen the Song of Songs (or Solomon) as an allegory of the human-God relationship.  Modern romantic traditions have been shaped by medieval times when arranged marriages were the norm.  Women were a means to unite families, fortunes and property, usually without their consent.  Wandering singers/instrumentalists called troubadours wrote and sang about love.  Verbalizing about love was important because love was not often considered important in marriage.  During this time, often the songs and poetry were about, at least indirectly, illicit love relationships.

What does the New Testament show us about communication between lovers?  Zachariah may have written a love note or two to Elizabeth, but we are not told.  Joseph and Mary had a lot of time to talk on their four or so days on the road to Bethlehem.  Wish we knew about their conversations.  About Ananias and Sapphira, we won’t inquire.  Aquila and Priscilla should have left us some guidance on this topic.  They sound like good communicators.  Paul wasn’t interested in that sort of thing.  But he did give us a bit of help.  Husbands (and I suppose wives as well) are to love the other as Jesus loved the church.  What was Paul referring to?  What words?  Perhaps it was the actions of Jesus:  giving good news, dealing with sickness, bring release in bad times, providing food and so on.
But back to our original question.  Who, in modern romantic terms would be our model male lover?  That leaves us with the only Biblical lover, who we know to be big and strong and who is recorded to have fallen in love and to have told a woman, “I love you”.  Who is our model lover?  Samson, of course.

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“Bread of Life?” Too many carbs!

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How do carb hating Americans begin to understand Jesus’ words on “bread of life”? My mother baked bread. She encouraged Julia to bake bread and Julia has baked bread at nearly every other week for the nearly 50 years of our marriage. I really enjoy her bread. During tomato season a BLT, usually without the B, is a frequent feature of my lunch. Colder weather brings out my carefully seasoned cast-iron skillet for grilled cheese with the addition of mustard, then meatloaf or sprouts or Lebanon bologna or whatever compliment is available.

Until my Meniere’s was brought under control bread toasted was a first food welcomed after a bout of nausea. (That and Cheerios which I still associate the Biblical character Legion. After recovery from nausea, getting dressed and eating food again—Cheerios usually—I felt I, like Legion, was “clothed and in my right mind.”)

But bread “of life”? For the first century citizen, according to a bit of research I did, bread made up a third to a half of the diet by volume. On this year’s Thanksgiving Feast table, I am not sure I saw any bread—there was some in the stuffing/filling/dressing. Probably the five loaves and two fishes the boy carried in his bag would give us a volume of ten to one or so. He probably ate the dates his mother packed.

In an era when Wonder Bread was first introduced, Consumer Reports experiments determined that rats could not be kept alive with the bread. How can we gain any sense of Jesus’ “bread of life” saying? Even with the vitaminized version of bread today “in a healthy diet” as the bread loaf label says, do Jesus’ words have any clarity? Has this rumination brought me any closer to a first hearer’s understanding of Jesus’ words? Can the tools of historians and cultural anthropologists cut through the veil of 21 centuries to open up the truth of what Jesus was teaching? Will eating a Biblical diet bring me closer to Jesus?

 

 

Saving more books

New treasures at Booksavers of Virginia

“It was a dark and stormy night . . . “ lines often parodied which began Edward Bulwer-Lytton (English novelist) 1830 novel Paul Clifford.

Last week I researched a book with these lines:

“Who could think of love within the haunt of the temple of  ‘That Nympholepsy of some fond despair’ and not feel that love enhanced, deepened, modulated into at once a deepened desire.” (Godolphin, p. 183, 1833 published by Carey)

These stirring lines were from the first edition of the novel. This edition was published just after the English Reform Bill of 1832 was passed. This bill reduced the power of the noblility by extending the voting franchise. Lytton’s satire was highly critical of the actions and views of bill’s opponents. He later revised the novel (1840) to soften the portrayal of the nobility. It took me some searching to determine that the Carey edition was different than the later ones for which there are many publishers. No other vendors offered a copy for sale. I had to guess on a price for the quarter leather bound volume with marbled covers and darkened pages. Value? Somewhere between $50 and $300. (I put a conservative $69.)

A. J. Trask   Music [Selections of piano sheet music from 1840-1860]

When I saw the large, worn leather bound volume, I knew it would be a problem. The title, stamped on the front, was a name: A. J. Trask. This was a collection of piano music. Several pages were sticking out beyond the others and page edge trimming was irregular. On opening the volume, I found no contents page. Paging through the book, I found many tears from probably resulting from the quick turning of pages as the pianist played—they were about 1/3rd of the way up the page.

But then I recognized some of the titles, especially those by Stephen Foster. The volume contains around 40 pieces of sheet music including:  “Song of the robin” and “Romance”, George William Warren;  “The last rose of summer : with an intro./ brilliant variations for the piano forte”, Firth, 1856?;  “The last waltz of a lunatic”,  Beyer, Ferdinand,  New York : Firth, 1850s; “The rainbow schottisch”, H Kleber;  “George W Quidor”, Firth 1854; “Gentle Annie  ballad”, Stephen Collins Foster, 1856 [1st ed.]; also, “Camptown Races”; “Ethiopian Melody. As Sung by Christy Minstrels”, “Nelly was a lady”.  Firth, 1849(?); “He doeth all things well, or, My sister : a ballad”, I B Woodbury.

I had trouble putting a price on this. I knew it could be worth more than the $25 I put on it.

—I posted it to Amazon and found out that it sold the next day. Did I put too low a price on it?

 

 

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The Methodist Episcopal Hymnal (1852) has solid leather covers with some wear and cracks at hinges.  Gilt lettering and design on spine is easily readable.  On front are the words  “Cool Spring M. E. Church FROM Mamie Dashiell”.

On the fly in pencil (faintly):  “This book belongs to Thomas R. Gentry  I bought it of a lady at Lincoln Station and give $5.00 dollars in Confedret (sic) money” [according too?] Phebe A Gentry This book was bought November 28, 1862.  Thomas Gentry died in 1881 at age of 43 according to a slip of paper inserted in the hymnal.

(Methodist Episcopal Hymnals for this period are not expensive ($15-$25). How much does the note on the fly add to the value?  I was unable to locate a “Cool Spring M. E. Church” with a limited search.)

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