Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (1 Peter 2:4-8) transports me back again across the Brandywine, the river that creates the border of the Shire, where Frodo and his fellow Hobbits venture into the mysterious and unknown realms of Middle Earth in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. They sing as they travel, upon the hearth, the fire is red, beneath the roof there is a bed, but not yet weary are our feet, still round the corner we may meet, a sudden tree, a standing stone, that none have seen but we alone. But they are on more than an adventure to see undiscovered stones; they are on a mission, to destroy the ring of power. If you have read the book or seen the movie, you’ll remember the word used over and over to describe that one ring so captivating to anyone who has it in their possession; it becomes precious. But, the ring also becomes a stumbling block; it causes anyone who dares put it on to stumble and fall. Who can forget that final scene Tolkien described on Mount Doom? “Precious, precious, precious!” Gollum cried. “My Precious! O my Precious!” And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail, “Precious,” and he was gone. The world’s way really is like the precious ring – One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
Had Peter (aka “Rock”) read or seen Tolkien’s work, he might have had second thoughts about describing Jesus as the precious stone for those who believe. But, like the ring, Jesus as Cornerstone does have an incredibly powerful pull and transforming effect on all who possess faith in the Way of Christ. Believers become living stones of a holy priesthood, offering God’s grace to the guilty and embracing the shameful with news of salvation. But for those whose faith and trust lies elsewhere, who cannot see good news in the call to love enemies and welcome strangers and give to the poor, Jesus becomes a Stone Cold stumbling block causing ruin and downfall to delusional dreams of power. Everybody has to eventually round the corner and discover that standing stone and respond one way or another, with acceptance or rejection, faith or fear.
I wonder if Tolkien, fond as was of a snifter of brandy on cold nights (it’s no accident that he named the Shire’s river the Brandywine), ever ventured to mix a Stone Fence (part brandy, part hard cider, on the rocks). Some say the old pub drink got its name from the tendency of people to run into the stone fence if they had a bit much, while others say a moderate amount would make you feel like jumping the stone fence backwards. Maybe that’s how Jesus, as the Cornerstone, is, hitting some like a ton of bricks and elevating others to new heights; a stumbling block to some, a stepping stone to others. Imbibing a snootful of enemy love and welcome to the stranger may leave some feeling like they’ve crashed into a stone fence, while it may lift others’ spirits to the point of bounding clear over those same stones. Either way, as Dylan once sang, everybody must get “Stoned.” Speaking of brother Bob, and remembering Tolkien’s favored appellation for the ring, did you know that Dylan once recorded a cover of Precious Memories during the tail end of his evangelical Christian years? Funny how everything ties together.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.