Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Lent day 25

St Paul refers on several occasions in his letters to the church as the Body of Christ.

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? (1 Cor 6:15)

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Cor 12:27)

He argues that the diversity of functions and parts of the human body, necessary to sustain life for the whole person, provides a defining image for the nature of relationships binding individual believers together in the community life of the church. 

The word 'member' as used of body parts is the same used for each person who belongs to the church by baptism. They are not described as initiates or adepts or illuminati, or clients, or subscribers, or recruits but members of a body that can pray and feed together at a meal in common, transcending all barriers of class, culture or race.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)

"For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." (1 Cor 10:17)

Later in this letter, he develops the idea of members' mutual interdependence further 

"But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary." (1 Cor 12:20-22)

In other letters he elaborates this, speaking of the unique gifts members receive from God. 

"So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.(Rom 12:5-6)

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people" And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ," (Eph 4:7, 8, 11-12)

Paul also speaks of the church as the body of which Christ is the head, bearing the ideas both of authoritative leadership, and intelligent mind. He belongs as part of that of which he is head, or the head.

"And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the first-born from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy." (Col 1:18)

God the Father has "put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." (Eph 1:22-23)

Paul criticises religious people from a variety of different faith backgrounds for beliefs and practices derived from the teachings of gnostic sects comparable with 'new age' beliefs of today that put occult knowledge and wisdom before knowledge and love of God in Christ for

"not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God." (Col 2:19)

Each believer has a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, inseparably linked to others who believe and confess faith in him in their membership of his body, the church.

Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. (Col 1:5)

The image of the whole of the Body of Christ is the visible humanity of Jesus as he made himself known in his earthly life among us. God created human beings "in his own image and likeness" (Genesis 1:27) That includes the gift of creative freedom, and infinitely rich diversity of our individuality, which makes everyone recognisably human to each other. The identity of the whole and of each member is one and the same.

The image of humankind as the flock of which the Lord is the shepherd is as accessible as it is familiar in scripture, yet consider this difference. The flock of birds or the flock of sheep move as one in their response to their environment, each interconnected with the other, and acting as a group as they have evolved to perform out of self-protection. Each creature is much more like the other than it is a distinctive individual. How they function together as flock is not how they may function separately. There is no 'typical' sheep or bird that describes the way the whole functions. 

The conscious exercise of will inhibits human beings from the kind of collective activity shown by a flock. This may be for better or for worse. Freedom brings responsibility, disagreement, creative tensions and conflicts. Natural Instincts can help or hinder, relationship with the divine author of existence is what enables humankind to go above and beyond the given, to learn and grow, adapt and reconcile in creative ways.

The unique humanity of individuals and the collective humanity of the church is described in the same way, identified with Christ - the archetypal human being who is in us, with us, and binds us all together in a common identity, bearing the divine image.  

"One God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all." (Eph 4:6)

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