Corpus Christi - a Community of Diversity

A sermon preached at St George's by Clare Heard on 22 June 2014

As a church we’ve been on quite a journey since Easter. We’ve celebrated:

• the ascension, the returning of Jesus to the Father,
• Pentecost, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the church’s birthday
• Trinity Sunday – reflecting on the loving relationship between Father, Son and Spirit,
• and now we come to Corpus Christi – the body of Christ.

And it seems a very apt time to welcome another person into the church through baptism. Today Hector will become a member of God’s church, of the body of Christ.

But what does this mean? What exactly is the body of Christ, what is today all about?

Last week, we looked at God as Trinity, simultaneously affirming both unity and diversity within a loving relationship. Images of the church as the body of Christ build on this – one body, and many parts, each different, all essential.

The church should be a place where we can bring our different gifts, AND our different ideas and opinions. Church is a place where disagreement is an inevitable and even essential part of life. It is a place where we bring our diverse perspectives on God and diverse ways of making God’s work real for each other. And we are asked to love each other and value our differences – do you think God realizes how hard that is? To love people whom you totally disagree with, to learn from people who may think the exact opposite to what you think?

This is the beauty of the church, that it is called to be a place where people can be truly themselves, where everyone has something to give…..but it is also one of its greatest challenges.

How do we work as one body, whilst being so different? How do we get our gifts to compliment each other, rather than trample on each other?

I don’t think there are any easy answers to these questions, but the starting point is perhaps to love others and think of their needs before our own.

If we only think of what we have to offer, we are in danger of being that “charitable person” described by C.S. Lewis:

“She lived for others;
you could tell the others by their hunted look”

We do not have a license to impose our gifts onto all those around us. Rather we need to look for what is needed (as perceived by others, not just ourselves) and then offer what we can bring. We need to listen, and love our church so that we can grow together.

Church is not simply about keeping certain rules, having a moral code, although this is a necessary part, but it is more than this, it is a place in which we learn how to live for each other, and in so doing, to live fully as ourselves. We grow best, when we grow together.

The church is the community of those who have been immersed in Jesus’ life, overwhelmed by it. As we will shortly be proclaiming, “We are members together of the body of Christ; we are children of the same heavenly Father; we are inheritors together of the kingdom of God.”

In Baptism, Hector is joining this family. Baptism is an event which brings new life by bringing new relationship. Relationship with God and with the church, a community of people who are invited to sit and eat with Jesus.

Corpus Christi has traditionally emphasized celebrating the real presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus describes himself as the living bread. He says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life in us. This implies that the bread and wine somehow bear, communicate, and mediate the life of Jesus, who and what he is. I am not going to get into the widely differing theories on how this happens. It is enough to say that in receiving the bread and wine, we receive Jesus and the life he brings.

During Jesus earthly life he would eat with people, and then re-call them to their task. So it is now with the whole church as we celebrate communion. We are not here because we have earned our place; we are here to share again in Jesus body, to eat with him, to be immersed and soaked in Jesus life, and to pray to the Father with him.

Through this common act of faith, barriers are broken down. We are all equal at God’s table, we eat together, we receive together and once again we are transformed into Christ’s body on earth today.

And it is this sharing that binds us together as a church, with all our differences, all of our brokenness but also with all of our gifts, and all our attempts to love and to grow as Christ’s body.

This is the church that Hector is joining today, a place of diversity, and of imperfection, yet a place where we are called to be all that God created us to be, to be fully alive, to love God and each other and to grow together.

As we share in baptism and the Eucharist, we are re-called to the task God has set before us…to be Christ’s body here on earth. Teresa of Avila reminds us that we are the only body Christ now has on earth and as such we have a particular responsibility, a calling on our lives. As Henri Nouwen says;
“the spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it………We want to live as people chosen, blessed, and broken, and thus become food for the world”

We are called to a life of compassion (suffering with others), a life of serving others and loving others – not just each other here today, but the whole church, and beyond it to our communities and our world. It is a call to be fully ourselves, fully alive, all that God created us to be.

It is this life and call that Hector is invited to join today, and that we are all re-called to each time we share the Eucharist. It is a life of participation in the loving relationship with Father, Son and Spirit, as members of the body of Christ.

[Using extracts from Tokens of Trust, Rowan Williams]
Holland Park Benefice