We are the messy, mystical body of Christ
In Judaism, there is a blessing for everything. I have a favorite Jewish blessing that proves that point. Here is the blessing to be recited on going to the bathroom:
“Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who formed man with intelligence, and created within him many openings and many hollow spaces; it is revealed and known before the Seat of Your Honor, that if one of these would be opened or if one of these would be sealed it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You even for one hour. Blessed are you, O Lord, who heals all flesh and does wonders. Amen.”
I love that prayer because it deals with a fundamental reality that is easily overlooked. Until illness wakes us up to reality, we take our bodies for granted. And in this prayer, thanks is given that our bodies work properly without us even thinking about it.
We need all the various parts of our bodies and we need them working properly. For if the parts of a body meant to be closed were opened and the parts meant to be opened were closed, we could not stand for even one hour.
This sort of earthy understanding of the workings of a body is essential to understanding Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul gives a great metaphor for the church in that letter, saying that the church is the Body of Christ. For Paul this is both metaphor and mystical reality.
Paul uses the Body of Christ image to show that within the church we need diversity as well as an understanding of our interdependence. Paul uses the body to show how ridiculous it is to think that all Christians should be just alike. We are the Body of Christ and a body must have different parts.
If the parts of a body were identical, the body could not function properly. As Paul writes, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If all were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?”
And this is where the deeper meaning of Paul’s understanding of the Body of Christ lies. Paul does not describe what he wishes were so. Paul does not write, “You should be the Body of Christ,” or “Why can’t y’all get your act together and be the Body of Christ.” Paul writes, “You are the Body of Christ.” For Paul, it is not a suggestion, or an ideal for which to strive. That Christians are the Body of Christ is a simple fact.
No Christian can truly say to the Pentecostals, “We have no need of you!” Nor can one rightly say that to the Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, non-denominational churches or any other part of the Body of Christ. We are in communion with everyone that God is in communion with. That sounds messy because it is.
We are one in the Spirit with Christians we don’t see eye to eye with as well as those with whom we wholeheartedly agree. The Christians and Christian groups that seem the most unnecessary to us that are the most needed. There is no appendix in the Body of Christ as there is no part that can be cut out without harming the whole body.
Your church needs the visitor and the newcomer for you are not yet whole without them. And to make matters worse, you need the people who will come and change your church in some ways as they use their gifts for ministry or call on you to use yours. Looking beyond the baptized, we desperately need those who do not yet share our faith. The Body of Christ may well not be complete without them.
The Christian music group Casting Crowns has a song, “If we are the body” which says, “Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come.” When we create high standards about who can and cannot be a member of the Body of Christ, we likely remove ourselves as well others we love.
The same Casting Crowns’ song tells this story, “A traveler is far away from home, he sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row, the weight of their judgmental glances, tells him that his chances are better out on the road.”
How many churches have “dismembered” themselves, by chasing people away who seemed different? How many people have been casually caused to feel unwelcome at your church? Hopefully none.
For our life in Christ is not the TV show Survivor, we cannot vote one another out of the Body of Christ. That’s a good thing. Otherwise I would have been voted out of the body already. You too.
No Christian can truthfully say to another person, “I have no need of you!” To make a statement like that is to lie to yourself.
As the prayer that began this column states, without the whole body functioning properly, we could not stand before God for even one hour. I am not attempting to describe the way things should be or the way things would be in a perfect world. I am describing the reality that exists within the very life of God.
We Christians are in reality members one of another. What would the world be like if Jesus’ followers had the courage to act like we were all on the same team?
(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.)
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526