Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Lent day 12

I woke up with the image of a brick wall in my mind, and took this photograph outside the back door.
For the past 7,000 years, human beings in different parts of the world have been firing moulded blocks of clay to make building bricks. Air-dried bricks of mud and straw have been found that go back 9,500 years. Both are highly adaptable for use in making boundary walls, shelters, houses, water channels, fortifications, especially in regions where natural stone is too hard or too soft to work with. 

Neil McGregor's 'History of the World in 100 objects has nothing to say about them, yet it's hard to conceive of the known world developing without them. Systematic shaping and arranging of pieces of material for construction is one of humankind's earliest technological break-throughs.

Bricks are mentioned first as a construction material in the story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:3-4). In the Exodus story, enslaved Hebrews labour at making air-dried bricks (Exodus 1:14 & 5:7-19) under worsening conditions that drive their bid for freedom. There are dozens of references to building cities, temples, ramparts abound in the Old Testament, but fewer in the New Testament. They do not mention bricks but stones, yet these are of great significance for the growth of the church, and relationships between disciples of Christ.

"Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures?, 'The stone the builders rejected, became the chief corner stone; this came about from the Lord, and it is marvellous in our eyes' " (Matt 21:42)

A quotation from the Psalms, much used to interpret the meaning of the death of Jesus, confirming his role and status as God's Messiah.

"The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone." (Psalm 118:22)

Peter's first Epistle also refers to the same passage in his proclamation of Jesus, and the calling of all who become his disciples.

"Come to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:4-5)

And Paul too uses the building metaphor in speaking about community relationships.

"For we are co-workers in God's service; you are God's field, God's building." (1Cor 3:9)

Both are clear that whatever our efforts may contribute to the process, God is the master builder, the architect of the worshipping and believing community.

Each building, each wall, each bridge, each channel fashioned of brick has its own story, its own role and function. Each batch of bricks, if not every single brick has its story too, inter-related with that of homo faber - the artisan or architect whose labours caused their forms to appear in the world. It's the same kind of dynamic relationship between utterly simple and utterly complex things that exists in the human body, and between the microcosm and macrocosm of the universe.

There's far more than anyone can imagine or discover in God's creation. "Who can know the mind of God?" as St Paul said twice (1 Cor 2:16 & Rom 11:34), quoting Isaiah 40:13. It's good to marvel at the extent of what can be known, and remind ourselves not to take for granted even the most basic and simple things in the world around us.

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