The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
27 January 2013
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Saviour Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and all the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvellous works; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
In the Introduction I wrote back in 2008 for our then new parish Liturgical Customary, I mused on the collective noun for a group of altar servers. I pointed out that when altar servers gather they are not a “pride” like the lions, an “ostentation” like the peacocks, or, heaven forbid a “murder” like the crows. I pointed out that, at least according to the research of my trusted role model Percy Dearmer, they are to be called a “body.”
I reminded those who will come and assist at our altar how Saint Paul teaches us several things about being a body. In his First letter to the Corinthians, which we have just heard this morning, he says us: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” And again in his letter to the Romans he makes the point: “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:4-6b). Just as all Christians are called to gather and celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist, becoming a body united in Christ’s body and blood, those who serve at the altar are called to be a body of diverse parts and talents, working together to show forth the beauty and love of God in our inspirational work of praise and devotion.
This use of the term “body” as the collective noun for those Christians who server at the altar represents a microcosm of the larger Church. We are collectively the Body of Christ. It is no accident that this term has been the preferred image of the Church for Catholic Christians from the beginning. In the same way as we would not find it helpful to call a group of Christians a “pride,” “ostentation,” “murder,” or even (and for other reasons) a “school,” I find other images for the Church like “Ark of Salvation” or “Hospital for the Soul” equally unhelpful. In the one we are a beleaguered few riding on a sea of sin against a hostile world; in the other we are simply a place to come when we need something. Yes, it sometimes feels as if our values run counter to those we see in the world on a daily basis. Yes, God’s love and care for us, especially in community, has the power to heal our deepest wounds. We are, however, bigger than this. We are, at our best, a body, working as one to do God’s work of bringing to fruition his kingdom.
We are a group of individual parts, individual members, each uniquely suited to do our particular work, use our particular gifts to aid our Head. Members of a body are by definition different from one another. Being part of a body does not mean the sublimation of self or the sublimation of our gifts. We need each other. We are interdependent. Saint Paul puts it this way, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” We are called to be the Body of Christ working together, employing our unique gifts and talents in cooperation with each other and with Christ, our Head.
And who is this Christ that is the Head of our Body? He is the one who at his baptism in the Jordan River was proclaimed God’s “beloved son” with whom he “is well pleased.” He is the one who was driven into the wilderness and tempted and to whom the angels ministered. He is the one who began his public ministry in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth by opening the book of the prophet Isaiah and “finding the place where it was written,” and reading
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
He is the one who identified himself as the one to achieve what Isaiah proclaimed: “to preach good news to the poor ... to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” This is who Jesus is. He is the one who ushers in the Kingdom of God and actualises God’s promises to us. He is our head, he is the one whose members we are through our own baptism and incorporation into his body.
We are bound to him, connected to him, one with him, and yet fully ourselves. Life as members of the Body of Christ demand, as I said a couple of weeks ago, demand the ethics of the Kingdom of God, the ethics of Jesus proclamation today, the ethics of preaching the Good News, helping us to see who we really are and whose we really are, and serving our neighbour. The overarching lesson is that each of us is of inestimable value of God and to each other and as such we are capable of extraordinary things. Not one of us is alone in our membership in Christ’s body and this is what gives us the power and strength to do the work we have been given to do in and through our baptism, and nourished with the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ. Today the saying goes that in order to do the “right thing” we should ask “what would Jesus do?” In fact, we have the power to do so much more than than. Our power is not to do what Jesus “would” do, but to act as fully incorporated members of Jesus’ very own Body, carrying out the loving will of our Head, loving God, our neighbours, and ourselves.
Lent is coming upon us very quickly. Next Sunday we will mark Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple and of the Purification of Our Lady. The Christmas decorations will come down and ten days later we will gather for Ash Wednesday. As we begin to sort out how we will mark our Lenten journey of reflection and repentance, I ask that each of us considers this question of our membership in Christ’s body and actively engage in discerning what part each of us has in Christ’s body, and how we can be healthier and stronger. This is the spiritual exercise our individual bodies need as members of the larger body, and I pray that together we will grow and develop into the healthiest Body we can be so that we can act in unity with our Head, as one with him and each other in fulfilling his purpose.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Phillips Brooks, 23 January 2013
© 2013 Andrew Charles Blume