If you thought a snow-day would give you a break from my homiletical ramblings, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I guess you don't have to actually read this, but you should have plenty of time to do so, while nestled inside away from the cold and snow.
It is somewhat ironic that on the Sunday when we are scheduled to read this passage from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, we are not able to gather together for worship as we normally do on the Lord's Day. However, it is also somewhat appropriate. Allow me to explain.
With timeless words, Paul provides us with perhaps the most important and enduring metaphor for the Church: the Body of Christ. "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 in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body..." (1 Cor. 12:12-13). As is generally the case with Paul's letters, these words are addressed to a particular community, in a particular context, and responding to particular circumstances. In this case Paul is writing to the nascent community of Jesus-followers living in Corinth, a community that was established by Paul's own missionary efforts.
Having moved on to continue his missionary work elsewhere, Paul has been receiving reports on the community in Corinth and he is understandably concerned. He has been advised of the deep divisions that are threatening to destroy the community he worked so hard to establish there. Apparently, certain individuals in the community are proclaiming themselves superior to other members because of their particular spiritual gifts, specifically the gift of "speaking in tongues". This dynamic is exacerbating the societal divisions that probably already exist due to differences in social status and wealth among the members of the community. Paul's brilliant "Body of Christ" analogy strikes at the heart of these divisions.
To summarize Paul's argument: like the parts of a human body, we are each members of something larger than ourselves, a unified yet diverse community, and we each have a role to play in contributing to the life of this community. We are members of this community, this body, by virtue of our baptisms - we are bound together, not by ligaments and tendons, but by the mysterious, enduring power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul's timeless imagery can be summed up in another way: the Church is more an organism than it is an organization. This is an important distinction for us in our current, 21st century context:
It is certainly true that the Church, as a human institution, is inevitably going to include organizational realities. However, it's also true that it's these organizational realities that often get in the way of the Church being the Church (i.e. the Body of Christ in the world). When we loose sight of our larger organic identity as the Body of Christ, that's when get ourselves into real trouble.
The recent news out the Primates Meeting of the Anglican Communion is certainly relevant here. While acknowledging serious theological differences, especially related to human sexuality, the Anglican Primates have avoided, at least for the time being, full-blown schism. Not wanting to delve into all the details here, I'll simply say that the hopeful part of me views what happened as evidence of the Primates functioning more organically than organizationally.
As we seek together to follow the way of Christ, Paul's "Body of Christ" imagery is incredibly helpful. Even when we are unable to gather together for worship on this Lord's Day, and perhaps especially when this is case, we do well to remember that we are part of something much larger than ourselves and our own self-interest. By virtue of our baptisms, we are bound together by the Holy Spirit. We are members, one of another, participating in an organic and God-given unity, even in the midst of our diversity. We each have a role to play, as we make this journey together.