I’ve talked before about the importance of sacraments and why we come together to experience and celebrate them, and also about why we take the time to worship God. I think today is a good time to talk about another reason why coming together as a community of believers is important. We are all members of the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:14-31. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
We in the modern world tend to put all the emphasis on the importance of the individual, rather than the group. As a result, much of our spirituality is aimed at the individual. Yet when our spiritual experiences are individually-focused, we miss something. Each of us has been given talents and gifts by God. No one person has it all; therefore we must work together for the fullness of God’s gifts to be known. Paul uses the metaphor of the body of Christ to express this: just as a body needs hands, ears, eyes, and many other organs and parts to work together, so we need other people with other gifts to work together.
Humans were created to be social creatures, working together in mutual love and support, from the very beginning. Adam and Eve were created as partners; Adam by himself would have been lonely and incomplete, and I believe that Eve by herself would have been as well. I do not mean to say that humans must be married to be fulfilled, but that we were created to need relationships. Whether those are the relationships of spouses, friends, family, colleagues, we need others both for companionship and encouragement and help in times of trouble. And as we are supported in our time of need, so we support others in their crises. But such connections don’t happen by accident. They must be carefully nurtured and sought out.
Church is not the only place such relationships can be found. But it is the best place to find a Christian community. Now, I’m not being unrealistic here. I know there are many churches who fall far short of this ideal, where the body of Christ is torn by disagreements, faction, and cliques. Christians, like all other people, are flawed and sinful. But we are still called to community, to trust in God’s grace, to forgive others as we hope to be forgiven, to share our gifts for the enrichment of all, and to support one another in times of need. It is not always easy, and it is not always fun. In fact, it’s frequently hard work. But it can bring joy and comfort, and a renewed sense of faith as we learn to truly be the body of Christ in reality as well as in theory.