Thursday, 12 April 2018

The body of Christ --- a model

Jesus did not directly create the Church. Rather, he came to bring about ‘The Kingdom.’ His concept is very simple: if God is King — a sort of divine ruler — then we live under him and must obey his rule and obey only him. When all humanity does obey God as King, life on earth will be transformed, leading to an earthly paradise. He called it ‘The Kingdom’.

         The Church is one of Jesus’ principal means of bringing about the Kingdom. Unfortunately, the word ‘church’ has three separate meanings:

  • A building in which Christian services are held.
  • A Christian group or denomination, such as the ‘Church of
    England’ or ‘Baptist Church.’
  • All the people of God; the group of all baptised believers.

     The third definition is usually the best. To distinguish this model from the other two, it is common to talk about the Church Universal which means all believers of all denominations, wherever they worship God.

      It’s often useful to models and metaphors of the Church to help explain how it works. One of the first is St Paul’s idea of the body.

      The ‘body’ model of the Church says that each Christian member acts like an individual jigsaw piece so, like a human body, the Church relies on all Christians working together in harmony. St Paul sometimes calls it ‘the mystical body’.

      The mystical body is St Paul’s favourite way of describing the way a group of Christians work together when bolted together, spiritually, in a congregation. He says the true Church comprises all believers, past present and future.

      The Holy Spirit of God lives in the soul of each member. Therefore, all members of the Church are inter­linked. This fact explains why (for example) the Collect for All Saints’ Day talks of how ‘[God] has knit together his elect in one communion …’ where the phrase ‘knit together’ recognises that a link exists, but without trying to define it. It is unclear how this ‘linking’ occurs, but it certainly operates in a spiritual way.
      St Paul’s most detailed description of the body occurs in 1 Corinthians 12:1–12. In it, he explains, systematically and in a sometimes witty way, the possible errors we cause if we ignore this aspect of the Church. If one person in the Church body sins, then all others become spiritually ‘polluted.’ Conversely, all acts of love and spiritual goodness help cleanse all other members of the body.

Just before distributing the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the priest takes a wafer of bread, breaks it symbolically, and says

    We break this bread to share in the body of Christ.

Everyone responds, saying,
    Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in the one bread.

The body imagery occurs in many Collects. Probably the best known is the Collect for All Saints’ Day:
    Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord … 

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Who is God the Father?

God shows himself in many ways. We call the first form, ‘God the Father’.
     The Father lives in Heaven where he is seated in majesty and receives cease­less praise. For example, the prophet Isaiah saw God the Father in a vision:
I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’
Isaiah 6:1–5

The Bible always depicts God the Father as a being who is all-knowing and never changing. He is over­whelmingly holy and massively powerful. But the Bible does not really develop His character. He seems a remote Figure who does not come to earth. Indeed, the stories of creations in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, imply that God the Father cannot come to earth because He is infinitely holy that we would be consumed by His holiness because we are not. As a good analogy, think of a raindrop falling on apiece of red-hot metal. It would vaporise instantly as a result of the huge different in temperature.
      God is neither male nor female. God is utterly beyond gender. It would show contempt to refer to God as ‘it,’ so most of the time we refer to God as ‘he.’ (And we usually write the ‘He’ with a capital letter, rather than ‘he’, to emphasise His awe­some holiness, power and majesty.) This idea does not mean God is more male than female. In fact, the Bible contains many images of God that are undeniably feminine. For example, one parable in the Old Testament likens God to a mother hen as she lovingly gathers her chicks together (Hosea 11):

When Israel was a child, I loved him …
… I taught them to walk, I took them up in my arms. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift
infants to their cheeks I bent down to them and fed them.
Hosea 11:1–4

The word ‘Father’ implies seniority, superiority, and maybe somehow being in charge. Of all the ways God chooses to manifest himself, the Father is the most important. For that reason, we sometimes called him ‘the Godhead.’ The Bible often shows God the Father in Heaven as somehow controlling His other manifestations (Jesus and the Holy Spirit) as they work on the earth.

Picturing God the Father

In fact, the Bible tells us not to make or use images of God, but most of us have a powerful internal picture of what God the Father should look like. He is usually a man (hence’ Father’), old, and with a long white beard.

One of the most popular images of God in art is Michelangelo’s great painting God creating
Adam (right) from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, in Rome.


Edith Stein

Edith Stein was born into a German Jewish family in 1891. She was the youngest of 11 children and was born on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Hebrew calendar.
       Edith was a precocious child who enjoyed learning. Her mother encouraged critical thinking. She greatly admired her mother's strong religious faith but, by her teenage years, Edith had become an atheist.
       Edith was, at heart, a radical, one who goes to the radix, the roots. She rejected God because she saw little evidence that most believers, whether Jew or Christian, really believed. So she became a nursing assistant in 1915 in response to the tragedies of World War I.
      She then began a glittering academic career in philosophy, teaching, lecturing, writing and translating. She was soon celebrated as a philosopher and author.
      Her studies necessitated that she read the works of Christian intellectuals, so Edith read the autobiography of Teresa of Ávila, the reformer of the Carmelite Order. It became a favourite yet made her feel the need for irreversible change. She converted to Christianity and was baptised as a Catholic on 1 January 1922. Almost immediately she felt the call to become a nun.
      In 1933 the Nazis took control of the German universities and blocked Edith, as a Jew, from teaching. They forced her to wear a Star of David and made her abandon her teaching position, thereby forcing her to make more life-changing decisions. To her mother’s dismay, she become a Carmelite nun in Cologne. She became a novice in April 1934 and took the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
      As a Carmelite she wrote Life in a Jewish Family and The Science of the Cross: a study of Saint John of the Cross. Her life became a deliberate offering of holiness and self-giving. In 1938, she and her sister Rosa, by then also a convert, were sent for safety to the Carmelite monastery in Echt in the Netherlands, for their safety. Despite the Nazi invasion of Holland in 1940, Edith and Rosa remained undisturbed.
      But Edith’s own Cross lay ahead of her. The Dutch bishops issued a short pastoral letter protesting at the deportation of the Jews and the expulsion of Jewish children from Catholic schools. The Nazis retaliated by arresting all Catholics of Jewish extraction and sent them to Auschwitz. Edith and Rosa died in the gas chamber on 9 August 1942. Edith was canonised on 11 October 1998.
      She left a wide legacy. First, in championing the women in the Bible, she helped kick-start Christian feminism: as she said, ‘The intrinsic value of women consists essentially in [their] exceptional receptivity for God’s work in the soul’.
      Second, she helped adapt Carmelite spirituality, which was previously regarded negatively as ‘medieval’, to make it relevant to modern forms of life. 

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