“The body of Christ” has been on my mind for the last couple of years – as a phrase, a concept, and a reality. It seemed fitting (for me) that this would be the theme of our year’s writing assignment. I think I hoped that this process would bring about some kind of ultimate fact that would be the missing key to unlock my understanding; of course I soon realized that I don’t know, that it isn’t just one thing I’m looking for, that the manifestation of God in Christ in us is even more un-pindown-able and more mystical and more beautiful than I could hope. I believe that and experience it, and hope it will continue to be unexplainable in its fullness. So I’ve been thinking and writing, and maybe all these thoughts seem a jumble, but it has been good for me. How great that this Great Being, this Presence, this Existence, this I AM, this God is – and is in us.
As I write, the image of a human body is in my mind. This body is all one entity; there are not parts unconnected that just exist alongside each other. The arm doesn’t float next to the torso, unattached; it is firmly connected. And it is not just connected, but also a part of what is connects to. Where does the arm stop and the shoulder begin? They blend together, and at the same time are distinct in form and function. The arm is good in its function, and useful. It makes up part of this body, but it is not the whole body. Or think of its brother, the brain. Brother brain is essential for the health and liveliness of this body, but he is not the body. There is the heart – also absolutely necessary, but without the other parts to pump blood to her purpose is pointless. Skin isn’t a body, but holds everything in (and keeps stuff out, too!). Eyes are not a body. Blood is not a body. A living, healthy, complete, and fully functioning body is not made of one thing, or even several essential parts to sustain life, but is every part joined together as one. Every limb, follicle, cell, and cavity. Every bone and muscle and gland and fluid.
St. Paul has already said the same thing in a letter to the church in Corinth. I like the phrases he uses in 1 Corinthians 12:
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (v.12)
“For the body is not one member, but many.” (v.14)
“Now there are many members, but one body.” (v.20)
“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (v.27)
You plural are the body (the Greek text actually uses the plural pronoun umeis as the first word in the sentence). An individual person is not the Body; I am not the Body, and you alone are not the Body. All together are. It is every person, every part, united together into one.
How does this work? Is it automatic? To some extent it must be an indefinable mystery that sweeps over us. But it seems there also must be an intentional coming together, a uniting that we all work toward together. I think it has something to do with acts of love. And love is sacrifice. I realize this may be too simplistic a definition, but maybe that’s not a bad thing.
Jesus’ prayer for all believers, as recorded in John’s gospel, is for unity. He prays:
“…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (17.21-23)
I think about the perfect love in unity shared between the Father and the Son and the Spirit – and Jesus praying for this unity among us. And this unity is expressed in love and by love – sacrificial love. These are acts of serving one another, of sacrificing self. Christ’s attitude is our example: humbled as a servant, obedient to suffering, looking only for God’s honor (the segment in Php. 2.1-11 is a beautiful description of this). I think what I’m saying to myself in all this is that our ability to be one on our part depends on our willingness to love. And if loving is sacrifice – of not putting individual desires first but doing what is in the best interest of the others – then it makes sense that each part of the body must look out for the others and serve the others in order to function right.
— Anne Wilson