Jean’s father was an RAF chaplain during the Second World War, serving mostly in Iraq. Jean is sorting through his papers – and amongst them were not just photographs and diaries but artefacts too, which he picked up on his travels. The one pictured here is about 3 inches by 2 inches in size and is part of a stamped brick of Nebuchadnezzar II (c.634 – c.562 BC) from Babylon. The full inscription would probably have read, as thousands others did, “I am Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, Restorer of the Temples of Sagili and Zida, Eldest Son of Nabopolassar King of Babylon.” Another one in the collection is from Ur around 2270 BC and caries the name of Shulgi, King of Ur and Sumer and Accad.
I’m thinking of taking the stone round with me as I take Confirmation services this year. I’ll need to have part of the story of Nebuchadnezzar read from Daniel 4, since famous though the passage is, I don’t think it will be familiar to many. But what a story it is: of the King walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, an saying “Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty? and while the words were still in his mouth, a voice came from heaven: “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you!” and he becomes as a wild beast until he has learnt humility.
It is such a natural tendency to want to build ourselves up and secure our own destiny. But statues are toppled, inscribed stones decay, and any kingdom we build will be taken from us.
So counter-intuitively, any permanence, any ultimate meaning and destiny, must lie beyond ourselves, must lie in the deliberate setting aside of self and choosing to let our name be inscribed not on what we are building but on what God is building with and through us – and let His name be inscribed on us. Yes, 1 Peter 2 will do very nicely as a companion reading as we celebrate the choice our candidates are making for the only life that will last:
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[a] into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him[b] will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,[c] in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.