On this week following Pentecost Sunday, the Birthday of the Church, I would like to share some things I thought of last week about the metaphor of “Body of Christ” that we use of the Church.
First I will write of what the “Body of Christ” means, as metaphor, in a medical way. As in, how does science and our personal knowledge of our biology tell us of being a “body?” Secondly, I do then try to leap from those natural lessons onto how they assist the supernatural lessons (of the Body of Christ language in Scripture and Church life) and our meaning of it.
Let’s lead off with the approach of the medical or biological or scientific thought of what it is to be called to be a body. We start with the fact that our own bodies were scientifically designed by a Higher Power/God. We are alive bodily, and we have our own experience in flesh and body (with our spirit) to give us a lot of clues to what our Maker/Creator is like and how we are to be in relation back to Him. God did give us a body, even while religion’s revelation tells us we also have a soul/spirit being to ourselves. A body defines us. Personalizes us. It differentiates us from others (though we may look a little like some other person), and we have distinctions in dna, fingerprints, eyes, blood, and other ways to set us apart. We have a human nature. There is a connection to the world of nature in ourselves. Some things that humans share all serve good purposes: hands for working and touching and holding onto something or someone, feet for standing on or moving on, skin for giving us an outer layer, nerves to sense things, ears and a throat, tongue and mouth for communication. These are not accidental that we have them in common in our human making; these shared characteristics of human nature do serve purposes and possibilities and allow for our developed use and skill as creatures of God/The Higher Power.
God truly reveals much to us in this first sense of our biology. We can take lessons from our physical or biological selves that applies to what God meant for our human living to be (and Who He is and how He lives in relation to us). We see a design for work, movement, interpersonal transaction, and more. This is all called our Natural Revelation unto Who our Maker is. In our Catholic religion, this Natural Theology leads toward the spiritually revealed theology of a God Who says “made us in Their Image.” Somehow we reflect our Maker. As we look around at the world, we can see that the Higher Power also gave all creation some co-creative power to His species. For humanity, be fruitful and multiply is matched by much of animal and plant life also being fruitful and producing new creation.
All of this says something to us who believe and follow a call to be “the body of Christ.” The body says–be yourself, be personal, work and serve, protect, sense, move, grow, and communicate! Among other messages. All of these tell us as a “body of Christ” to do these things naturally for God.
Because in a natural bodies there is brokenness and decay and suffering, as well as fulfillment and growth and joy, we realize that there is a need to process and head for goals in life, and seek ways with others for good to come about. Nature calls us.
What marvelous lessons they all are! What a search and quest we are on, if we let the stimulaton happen to our bodies and minds, and wonder if we can cooperate with a Higher Power/God behind all there is around us. Is there God? So much says yes. Some disappointing things of the brokenness and selfishness and pain among humankind makes the “yes” a little harder to conclude, yet people have responded to the challenge of it all.
So, if we are this bodily person, among other bodily persons, what are we learning as we go along in our nature?
For starters, our medical basics tells us that the human body is dependent upon its head for life. So many critical functions happen in the head, and you can’t live without these head functions. (The original “head start!”) God our Creator gave us a head with its brain waves working for all thought–for all real “knowing” of existence and for meaning for our bodies. All knowing connects to the head for cognition. God really shows us in a biological way that, without its head, the body is nothing more than its flesh and blood and bones and skin. Useless. We know not what life truly is without our head. Because we were all born with a head.
(And yet–surprise–in the spiritual realm, God says we ARE a body cut off from its head. He says it is Scripture. He says this is a dying condition of humanity that needs His saving of us. We’ll get to that stuff in a few moments… but let’s keep talking about the human body.)
We also operate all life sustenance through our heads. We take in our food by the head, and we take in our breath there, and we hear and smell and see by our head. Without our eating or breathing naturally, the body would lose its life. It’s critical, isn’t it?
Biologically or scientifically, we get a message in our own existence, that body and head should go together for all function and purpose. God has a message here in natural revelation. Our human design leaves very big hints about the rest of life to know. (What if God were meant to serve our human race in a “head” capacity, and we as the “body?” Did God ever speak or show of this reality? Spiritually, yes! Yet, I propose that He did so naturally first, by our design.)
God goes on into supernatural revelation for us with messages that we are meant to be His Body, under the Son and in the Life of the Spirit. God tells us there that Jesus came because we, the body called the human race, were separated from Him, the GodHead, because of our sin. Jesus, God’s Son, explained that we were “dead” in sin, or at least, dying away as the body. Yet people did not much believe Him about it. Yet He said He represented the Godhead Who knew something quite intricate of His bodily creatures meant to be in life by Him. We were NOT in union with Him. Jesus used illustratons of seeds and earth, trees and fruit, light and dark, and so much more to teach us that we needed to get into saving life with Him. Believe in Me, He said. I Am Life, He said. Deny yourself (turn from your sin) and Follow Me, He said.
People who are in their bodies, who hear this message as like the first time, may still think that it is not necessary to respond heartily to God. After all, they might say: look around, I don’t see dead people walking, I and others I know are not zombies, and if Christians say we are all that bad in our sin and pride, I figure that I can’t be so bad off. If sin and separation cuts us off into death, then, well I can say–I still seem to be alive! If Jesus is supposed to be “Lord” or the Head of me, well, it seems to me that I and some others I know all are still existing without the Head!’
In answer to that: when one is dead in sin, then they don’t exactly feel it so. Sin is a lie lived. the sin-filled way is a rebellion or rejection versus Life of the Almighty, and denial of this tragic drama is the smokescreen or the veil over the shame. The sinner hides in their darkness, the believer is honest and comes into the God’s light for help. The believer sees the grand dilemma of the world in her sin and pain and death and humbly goes to the Almighty and says “have mercy on us.” The unrepentant sinner says “what trouble?” or “not my problem” or “all is futile and I am of no concern to Whoever’s in charge of this mess” or “curses be to the Higher Power–why won’t He do something?!”
That’s the words of an already dead person. Yet offer his people something else. God offers life.
A man in prison got to learn much of his life while wasting away in prison on a death row sentence. He was in solitary confinement. It was just he and his bodily self alone. Meals were slipped in under the door without conversation. If we returned the tray back under the door later, then it meant to the prison warden that he was still alive in his cell. Then, recalling a Mass he attended as a guest as a teen, he somehow remembered the words of consecration (Jesus said: Take this…This is My Body given up for you). The prisoner decided to use those words for a desperate prayer to God. “Hey, God, this is my body, given up for you. Take it!” The prisoner prayed it for seven days straight. Suddenly on the next day, he woke up into a Presence with him in his cell. He felt a message was sent to his mind and heart. It was: “I WILL take it, with today’s Mass by the chaplain, I WILL take your sin. I will come to you and be in your life from now on. Be not afrain of death. I have changed you.
You are mine, your sins have been forgiven and paid for.”
He said: “The warden finally came and met me, some weeks after my God Moment. The warden just wanted to inform me of my planned date to die. He told me that “I was living on limited time.” I told the warden: “I know that now. Sitting alone by myself with all that solitude helped me realize that all of humanity really is sitting in a death sentence. All are appointed to die–even you warden. But Someone came to visit me in this time of despair. I have come to be sorry and I have peace. I gave him my body.”
The warden was confused. “Noone was permitted to see you. Who got in to see you, a chaplain?” He answered: No, sir. Only a memory got in. It was of a Catholic priest saying Mass with Jesus’ words: This is My Body given up for you. I decided to pray and give myself up, too, to God. He actually came and accepted my offer. It was perhaps my only beautiful moment in life, warden!… Now I can die at the state’s will. But really, I’ve already been dead a long time. I’ve accepted that about myself. I realize that every message in my time outside and in my cell existence was in sin and death. I am ready for letting God live in me from now on.”
What that prisoner learned in solitude is a truth that all proud and stubborn human persons must see: we are needing Christ the Lord for new life.
One of the main problems of being in sin is that we are blinded and cannot see, deaf and can’t hear. We are lost and in peril and hardly realize it. It’s not until death that it all comes into view, that one has been outside of God and throughout a lifetime. At the Cross of Calvary, one person on the cross to Jesus left cursed Christ, the other person on the right said: “Jesus, remember me, when You come into your kingdom.” Jesus promised paradise that day to the second person.
Jesus once answered the folly of a rich man who didn’t think he didn’t need God or faith and salvation from sin. Jesus said to him: (in Luke 12) “Fool, now your life is required of you.” Jesus knew the man was soon to die and to face his judgment un-prepared. Jesus knew that the selfish rich man, who thought he could rely solely upon himself, would be in dire straights in death. He who would deny the help of God and the treasures Jesus was offering; it was his time of decision and he passed eternal Life by.
Yet the bodily life had sent messages to that rich man long before he was given the spiritual one from Our Lord. One’s dead skin and scalp, aging skin, and weakening muscles and such all send us a message–that there is a passing away already going on and a need for renewal always calling out (ready to work).
One’s heartbeats and breaths are here in the present, but then fall into the past, not to be re-lived or recovered. Time is passing, slipping by, fading– we know it is so– and one needs to wonder to where. One needs to wonder if this trap of time and limitation in the bodily life has a reason. One needs to ask about the body’s pain and suffering and ultimate passing. Why is all of this so? The natural answer is that something is wrong on earth and our lives. Catholic Christians call it the Fall of Humankind into sin and separation from God. Pride has led to a fall of humankind into rebellion and independence from God, which resulted in our living in such brokenness, sadness and loss. But this natural understanding for meaning and a need for change for humanity is meant to lead us to Christ Jesus as the Answer. Good Catholics know that they need to come to Christ daily for their re-creation. The Lord’s Prayer is recited: “Give us this day our daily bread, O Lord… thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”
Jesus was offering re-connection with God to the body of Israelites (and persons like this self-reliant rich man of little faith in Luke 12 or to the whole town of Sychar in the Woman at the Well story in John’s gospel or to Zaccheaus in Jericho town or to the leper in the group of ten sick persons), Jesus is saving people who were cut off from God by their sin. Jesus delights in that leper man coming back as a well person, to meet a thankful heart. Jesus sees a man whose body is not only well, but whose whole life and soul are recovered to wholeness. Jesus’ hope is for many persons in the world to become well. The leprosy of sin can be cured. The tightly closed soul can be opened up for light and eternal love.
Jesus said: “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” He explained how the one they were presently under, the devil, was only going to deceive and to steal and destroy from them. They would lose life who followed his ways in the world. They were already dying and heading to death on that plan.
Jesus said: “Apart from Me, apart from God, you can do nothing. Abide in Me, and I in you.”
Jesus said: “Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavily laden with burdens, and I will give you rest.”
This is language of God wanting to join us into Himself.
Jesus is remedy for our ugly reality of sin and its wages and grim fact of death. (Romans 6:23) Our bodies die. The world and its people are caught up in this darkness. Yet God has the solution in Christ. He is forgiveness. He is Light. He is Resurrection. He is new life.
Will humankind try to survive without its Head? The only person really to ‘exist’ without a head is the fabled headless horseman in Sleepy Hollow. Nobody else has pulled head-less existence off! [All puns included 🙂 ]
Perhaps Ichabod Crane in the novel is a bit like all those who are running away. We get chased by the image of the headless person, and that person really is our sinful self giving warning.
[My re-interpretation of the story. 🙂 ]
Yet humankind does try to spiritually exist without its head! It’s Head (or Lord) is God.
I like the reference in Colossians 1 about God’s Headship being offered in Christ Jesus, to bring life to our body.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” (Colossians 1:15-19)