Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As the body of Christ was wounded, so is His church, but do not confuse wounds with division


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There is one Body, and one Spirit, even as you have been called to the one Hope that belongs to your Call, one Lord one Faith one Baptism one God and Father of us all who is above all and through all and among you all. Ephesians 4:4-6

ONE of the central themes of scripture is that God gathers all things to Himself in Christ. When sin entered the world the peace, harmony and joy that marked God’s perfect creation was destroyed.  A “cosmic explosion” occurred and since then, the things that were meant to work together for good no longer do.  The pieces landed all over the place and the history of man is the story of trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  We have tried economic solutions, political solutions, military, scientific and religious solutions.  We have united the nations, the states and the churches, but for all our efforts people are more divided than ever before.

Every so often, after herculean efforts that usually destroy half the world, we get lucky and find two or three pieces of the puzzle that we can force together.  We are thrilled that “the trains run on time” and in our ever-hopeful hearts see nothing but bright days ahead.  But it is all a mirage.  Violence and impatience are the order of the day, and the only love that exists is the love of money and the love of self by which we further alienate ourselves from God and from one another.  But we learn from St. Paul that God unites the fractured world in Christ.  Apart from Him there is nothing but dis-unity and divorce.  Man is divided from man, class from class, nation from nation, ideology from ideology, Gentile from Jew.  What is true of the outer world is true also of the inner one.  Every person is a walking civil-war torn between doing what is rational, and living for the moment, and the battle is even more pitched for the Christian who with the New Man loves God with all his strength, but with the Old serves the law of sin.  We also learn from St. Paul’s epistle that on the cross Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility that exists between man and God and between man and man.  We learn that in His crucified flesh all divisions are ended, and harmony restored.

 Consider the impressive “catalogue of unity” the apostle provides for the church to rejoice in.  He tells us that there is one body.  We are apt to misunderstand this word, to think that Paul is using the word “body” the way we do when we talk about the “body politic” or about a “body of knowledge.”  He is not.  Instead he is talking about Jesus’ own Body and in scripture this term has three meanings which are all related to one another.

First it refers to the flesh of Christ: to the human body He assumed when He was born of the Virgin Mary, the body with which He lived a holy life for us, the body that was sacrificed on the altar of the cross as full payment for our sins, the body which rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits on the right hand of the Father, and will come again with its five glorious wounds to judge the living and the dead -- a judgment we eagerly await because the Savior promises to judge all matters for the good of His people. We are His people.

It also refers to the church which is the body of Christ.  The church is not a humanly devised organization or association of religious people.  It is instead the living breathing body of Christ of which He is the head, and we its blessed members, not in an imaginary or symbolic manner, but rather as surely as the branches are connected to the vine, and rely on it for their nourishment and life, so we rely on Christ who is the true vine.

When St. Paul says there is one body he is also talking also about the life-giving flesh of Christ which we take into our own flesh in the sacrament.  Here is the meal that ends all divisions and restores unity, though it is only obvious to the eyes of faith.  Here is the meal in which we truly sup with Him and He with us, thus answering the call of Jesus in Revelation 3:20 to repent and believe the Gospel.  In this meal sinners who have merited only death and damnation receive the bread of immortality for the forgiveness of their sins and the healing of their souls.  “Human reason though it ponder, cannot fathom this great wonder.” (
TLH# 305, v. 6)

As there is one body there is also one Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God whose work it is to make us holy as His name implies.  He does this by the normal means of the Gospel preached and the sacraments administered.  We never need to worry about the church’s growth or her continued existence, because the Holy Spirit is firmly in control of all these things.  Instead of obsessing about our “passion for souls” let us give up our God-complex and remember that this Spirit loves the lost souls of men more than we do, and knows how to save them better than we do.

As there is one body and one Spirit there is also one hope, the hope of eternal life in Christ, one Lord, even Jesus Christ who is the hope of Israel (Acts 28:20), one faith, the holy Christian faith which we learn from holy scripture and which the church always imparts to sinful men, one baptism by which those who are born of the flesh are born anew by the Spirit of the Living God and given everlasting life; with the one God and Father of us all who is over all, through all, and In all who believe. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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