Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe. . . . You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 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 2:2-10)
We sing Alleluia! Easter has returned. We retrace Jesus’ steps as he dies on the cross, and we rejoice once again at the Resurrection. Jesus has freed us from our yoke of slavery, and we are free indeed! Our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, so we are no longer slaves to sin. These familiar similes are comforting and sometimes important to our own faith stories.
I recently heard a story that impressed me once again with the great blessing of our freedom in Christ. In the city of Butrint, a Greco-Roman city in southwest Albania, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage City, there is a sanctuary linked to the cult of Asclepius.
“Most of the inscriptions appear to be documents in stone concerning the freeing of slaves, many of whom were women. In total, 597 freed slaves are recorded, most of whom were released by using a combination of civil and religious formulae.
“Another striking feature of these inscriptions is the important role assigned to women. They did not simply participate in the liberation ceremonies as daughters, wives, or daughters-in-law of a master, but they could also dispose of their own capital, their own slaves, and free them without the intervention of a man, as appears to have been the norm in Athens. A good example is to be found in another inscription (n.6 of Cabanes’s Corpus), where Teimagora, daughter of Nikolaos Ophyllis, frees Hiero and her daughter Sotia (unusually, in this case, the parentage of the slave is mentioned). The names of both slaves and their former owners, as well as those of political and religious figures, all highlight their origins from the northern parts of Greece (Epirus and Macedonia) and, in some examples, also Corfu and Corinthian territories.
“[The scientist] identified a further 29 inscriptions on the western entrance wall of the theatre (analemma), 27 of which document the manumission of slaves, over a period of almost 30 years. In addition, the walkway dividing the lower and upper seats yielded 14 more inscriptions referring to slaves receiving their freedom. These texts are later in date than those inscribed at the theatre entrance and more specific in nature. They span about a decade and include remarkable details, such as the time of year and the witnesses participating in the manumission ceremonies. Notably, they mention key political figures (the strategos and prostates) in the local tribe (Prasaiboi). They refer, too, to the presence of the main magistrates (prostates) of the Chaones and, most of the time, the priest of Asclepius, who was the caretaker and the guarantor for the manumissions. The names of both the prostates and the priests can be used as reference points for dating the inscriptions.”*
Written in stone! The documents giving these slaves their freedom has lived long after them. I hope their lives were full of joy. I am sure they could not forget the grace granted them. So let us live! Rejoice always for Jesus’ great gift!
And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me?
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me!