Life in the Seams
In the same sense that God is the Father of Christ, and Christ is the groom of the Church, so the members of the Church are brothers and sisters to one another. God calls out the universal Church from the whole of humanity, giving them a connection to each other. This Church is secure in Christ and cannot be defeated. Jesus tells the Apostle Peter, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18, CSB).
Paul tells the Corinthians “you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it,” (1 Corinthians 12:27, CSB) and the church in Rome “as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:4-5, CSB). Paul elaborates on the “body of Christ” analogy in 1 Corinthians, and in Ephesians 4 he relates his desires to see the Church love one another.
Jesus instituted the Church when he spoke the words found in Matthew. The Church is not a building where everybody meets. It is the people. In his book For All God’s Worth, NT Wright offers an illustration regarding Lichfield Cathedral in England. He explains that the cathedral was built to reflect the grandeur of God, all the while taking the brunt of war and time.
The reason why Chad came to Lichfield, and the reason why an ancient scribe lavished such craftsmanship on those priceless pages, is quite simply that the message in those Gospels is even more priceless: the message, that is, that the true God takes our brokenness and in Christ makes us new; that he picks up the pieces of our life, yes, even of our muddled attempts to follow him, and sticks them together again in a new way; that he heals those who are broken in heart, and gives the medicine to heal their sickness; that he promises new life, resurrection life, beyond all our sickness and death. To celebrate precisely here is to celebrate not the wonderful achievements of the church but the healing power of God to build his church with battered and broken building-blocks; including people like you and me. Celebration and healing; it is all God’s work.
And what if the seams are still visible? What if the stitching still shows? What if we carry about with us the pains of being half put back together and half still in pieces? What if we have identity crises, if we live with ambiguities and face problems we can’t fix overnight? Is that not what being a Christian is all about? As Paul continues, we are taken for impostors, and yet are genuine; dying, and behold we live; in pain, yet always full of joy; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything. Paul is not describing an occasional unfortunate lapse from the norm. This is the normal Christian experience.
Wright draws a connection between the battle-worn cathedral and the Church, reminding Christ’s followers that they are to bear one another’s burdens and love one another. What a beautiful reminder that is sure to comfort believers. A believer’s identity as part of the Church should be intensely comforting.