The Body of Christ

Is there a part of your body that you do not like? Is there a bit of you that you are less fond of? When I was young I was rather self-conscious about my legs. They are bowed; if they were on an antique cabinet they would be called cabriole. I was teased endlessly about them at school. When I started work in an office it didn’t get any better when the rather blunt secretary would repeatedly ask why my mother had not put me in ‘remedials’! One great bonus of getting ordained meant being able to wear vestments, which would conceal my bandy legs.

St Paul compares the church to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-30); it is a very rich analogy. It portrays the variety of its membership. The physical body is made up of distinct parts that enable it to function. Likewise the church is made up of a variety of people with different gifts, skills and personalities. We are all equally needed to enable the church to flourish. As St Paul quaintly puts it the eye cannot say to the hand 'I do not need you', or the head say the same to the feet. That’s not the way the body functions. Though there are some parts of the body we can manage without, life can be more difficult without them.

We do not interview or select church members. We welcome any who seek to join us.  It may be that some we find easier to get on with than others, some we may find difficult at times, (especially the rector!). But we cannot say to another church member we do not need you here.

If there is a part of the body we are discontented with, we might pursue the extreme of plastic surgery, a tummy tuck or a chin-lift, but we do not treat the church body in the same way. We shouldn’t be thinking about how others need to change before first asking what we need to improve in ourselves. We take the plank of wood out of own eye before taking the speck of sawdust out of our neighbour’s eye. St Paul urged the Christians in Ephesus to bear with one another in love with all humility and gentleness.

There are times when the church works better than others, When the people of Israel return from exile in Babylon and rebuild the temple and city of Jerusalem, how united they are, how diligent in prayer, how thankful to God and fervent in worship. They are happy to sit and listen to Ezra the priest read the Torah for hours on end.

The church is a place where all should feel welcome and accepted; this church is not a club of saints but a community of sinners all in need of redemption.

How good it is that those whose bodies are not complete, are invited to dance on Strictly Come Dancing, or compete in the para-Olympic games. Showing that a scar or a disfigurement does not have to be concealed, should not be ridiculed or cause a complex. Likewise we must not think we need to be perfect in order to be part of the church. 

Though we might not think it, though we may think that age has wearied us and the years condemned, we are all beautiful in the sight of God. For how can the creator not love his creation? We are beautiful because we are made in the image of God who is ultimate beauty and truth. We are made in his likeness. Which is a great blessing but also a massive responsibility. As he loves us, so we should cherish each other, our difference, our variety.

St Paul describes the effect of pain in the body. If one part of the body is in pain it is felt by the whole person. So the suffering of others affects us. In a church we share pain through our concern and compassion for one another. If there is anything we can do to help, then hopefully we will try. Together in the church we aspire to be the body of Christ. The Christ who got up to read in the synagogue that day in Nazareth. That is us. The Christ who calmed the storm, that is us. The Christ who healed, restored and forgave, that is us.

As St Teresa of Avila wrote:

Christ has no body now on earth, but yours,

No hands, but yours,

No feet, but yours,

Yours are the eyes through which to look

as Christ’s compassion to the world,

Yours are the feet

with which he is to go about doing good,

And yours are the hands

with which he is to bless us now.