We speak of the church as the body of Christ. Paul defines the church in terms of a body -- with many members -- in 1 Corinthinas 12. As Paul writes, "God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose (1 Cor. 12:18).
But what does this mean for us? I was struck by what Laura Blackwood Pickrel, a Disciples of Christ minister working with youth and young adults, wrote in an essay reflecting on our culture's preoccupation with body image, and our tendency to degrade and devalue the body. Laura's essay appears in a book that she co-edits entitled Oh God, Oh God, Oh God! Young Adults Speak Out about Sexuality & Christian Spirituality (Chalice Press, 2010). I'll be writing in more detail about the book itself, but Laura provides us an important insight as to how we understand both the human body and the church as the body of Christ.
The original readers of this letter already had a basic understanding of how the physical body works, so when their teacher and leader compared the church to a human body they not only knew what he meant but also understood that they were to treat both their bodies and one another with respect. Today, a couple thousand years later, as we associate the human body with shame and sin, we destroy our ability to understand and appreciate Paul's metaphor. The more we devalue the body, the more we devalue the church as an instrument of God's grace in a broken world. Paul knew that just as we have flesh, so too is the church made up of bodies. These bodies, yours and mine, make the church a tangible and effective witness to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in a world that desperately needs hope of wholeness. (pp. 48-49).
I added emphasis to that one sentence, because it speaks loudly to our current situation. We have devalued the body -- objectified it, even deified an ideal (much as the Greeks did), and find ourselves unable to reach the ideal, so we punish the body. What is true in human life, is true in the church. But Paul's word to us, calls us to honor and respect the body (both the human and the churchly). How might we reclaim this calling?