discerning the body

In preparing to lead communion this morning, I happened across Paul's interesting phrase, "discerning the body." Meaning discerning Christ's body in the bread and wine. But that also seems to be a great phrase to describe how we need to recognize the body of Christ in people, discerning the body that is the one, true community.

When I was writing about "strangers and exiles" the other day, I mentioned that we can at times feel like strangers even within our religious "home" community. Jesus found much rejection and the fiercest resistance against him in his own religious community, and also often felt at odds with (or opposed by) his intimate community of disciples. Yet were these not the people of God?

I guess I'd say yes and no.

I've often heard people describe the kingdom of God as "the reign of God," or all those who have submitted to the sovereignty of God, who obey him as king. Which we Christians do. Sometimes. And then sometimes we don't.

So at those times when we are not obeying God, it seems fairly clear that we are not representatives of his kingdom, we are not living as his people. And any of us can (and do) step away from the kingdom in this way at times, and so act no longer as the living body of Christ but against it, like Peter did just before Jesus turned and rebuked him: "Get behind me Satan!"

This helps me understand the confusion I've faced when someone I've known and trusted as a brother, as one flesh in the same body, then acts in ways that seem so much apart from the Jesus I thought we both knew. Or the confusion I cause when I do the same. The body hasn't turned on itself (it is Christ's body, after all, and he never turns against himself). But we are always free to step away from the body and act against it. We are also always invited to return to the body, the one community of Christ, but only as we submit to be made one with Jesus, to let his spirit (rather than our own) fill and guide us.

Discerning the body is then the same as discerning the spirit. Looking for and recognizing where the spirit of God is working in people, and seeing how the spirit is calling me to work together as one body with them. The body is not fixed according to persons or membership. The body exists where the spirit of Christ is, and the spirit "blows where it wills."

This means the membership of our Christian community is not fixed either, or a given. Just as many in Jesus' religious community turned against him (and we see the same repeated again and again in church history), so also there will be times when we have a hard time recognizing the body where we have seen it before. But then we may soon see it again in the same people. And we may encounter the body of Christ where we never saw it before or never expected to see it.

What is assured is that the body of Christ will always be like Jesus, never against him. And that this one, true community, the people we need and desire at the core of our being, will never be far from us if we are with him.