The Mystical Body of Christ

From our service on June 6, 2021, a sermon by Pastor Eric Stetson. Watch video below.

Last Thursday, June 3, many Christians celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi, an annual remembrance of the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Different types of Christians have different opinions about whether Christ is literally present in the elements of communion, or whether it’s a symbolic ritual through which we can focus our minds upon our connection with Christ and what he has given us by sacrificing his life for the salvation of humanity.

I hold to the symbolic view of communion — and I believe there are many ways that we can connect with Christ, through prayer, meditation, ritual acts, as well as acts of service to our fellow human beings.

No matter what we do to seek connection with the Divine Human who was embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is essential that we do so, for it is through such connection that we discover and come to manifest our truest selves. For when we receive him, in the words of John the Apostle, we “become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” [John 1:12-13].

The Apostle Paul teaches that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” To the philosophers of Athens he preached that “As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring.’” [Acts 17:28]. This is who we really are — but because we have fallen away from God in sin, we have exiled ourselves from the Divine Family. Through Christ, the perfect Son of God who has never sinned, we find a pathway to reunion with our true spiritual nature, created in the image of God [Gen. 1:27] — that we may be transformed from the rebellious man of flesh which we have become, to be patterned after the Man of Spirit who has descended into the realm of flesh to redeem it. Thus, in Christ, we ascend to the station of “heirs of God” [Rom. 8:17], our heavenly Father, alongside the firstborn Son in whose footsteps we follow.

By coming into our fallen world as the man Jesus Christ, God becomes more than a remote Creator who set the universe into motion. God is an intimate participant in the life of a suffering humanity. By experiencing the world of sin that we have created for ourselves through our choices to rebel against God, and in succumbing to the worst of this world on the cross, yet overcoming it, God cries out to us through the broken body and shed blood of Christ, saying, We know your pain, and we call you to rise above it. “See, I am making all things new,” says the Lord [Rev. 21:5].

But how can we become more than the sinful descendants of Adam? We look at ourselves and see the old man, the man of sin. Every day, we are reminded of our weaknesses and flaws. We look at Christ and it’s hard to see ourselves; rather, more often we see an impossibly high standard of perfection.

It is through God’s grace that we may become co-heirs with Christ. Although we’re not perfect, we are, in a sense, adopted into the Godhead through our spiritual communion with Christ. Even as Christ is the Son of God, we can be sons and daughters of God, part of the very same family. In recognizing our imperfection and turning to Christ for help, we open the door for God to work powerfully in our souls, so that through the ages of time, Paul’s prophecy may come true, that “as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” [1 Cor. 15:22]. The man of sin dies, but the one who is born again in the Spirit shall live forever with God.

Although we’re not perfect, we are, in a sense, adopted into the Godhead through our spiritual communion with Christ. Even as Christ is the Son of God, we can be sons and daughters of God, part of the very same family.

Despite our current imperfection, we may begin at any moment to participate in the mystical communion with God in Christ. Even as a baby grows slowly in the mother’s womb, so too are we formed gradually in the divine image. The tiny one-month-old fetus does not yet have all the parts of the body fully formed and functional. It cannot yet live on its own outside the mother’s body. So it is with our spirits that have been conceived by God and must abide in the Divine Body, giving us nourishment and protection so that we can become what God intends for us to be.

In our current immature state of development, some of us may excel others in some areas or abilities. For example, metaphorically speaking, one soul may already have eyes to see like Christ, but does not yet have strength in the hands to carry out some of the difficult work of the Lord. Another soul may have the strong right arm of God fully formed, but cannot see the vision for how to use it according to God’s will. Yet another soul might possess the ears to hear, but not the tongue to speak — or may speak eloquently the words of the Lord but have difficulty hearing new messages from the Spirit — and so on.

This is why we should abide together in the mystical body of Christ, which is the church. A believer who is alone may look at oneself and see their deficiencies, and filled with sorrow, may tear their garment in shame, thinking, I am unworthy, I am too weak or too flawed and unformed to be of service. But when the same believer comes together with others in unity in Christ, they may be encouraged and uplifted. Another believer may say to them, “Look, you have such a quality that I do not possess; I admire you for it, and I need your help.” And that believer may likewise help the other one in the areas where they are weak and struggling or feel themselves to be disabled.

In the words of the Apostle Paul,

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts… so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body …

Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? …

God has put the body together… that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” [1 Cor. 12:12-13,15-17,24-27]

In the church, we each have different strengths to contribute. And through our fellowship together, we learn from each other’s strengths and thus, in time, we can grow in the areas where we are weaker. Only Christ is perfectly strong and fully mature, but our destiny — each and every one of us — is to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” [Eph. 4:13]. Getting there is a process, beginning in this lifetime and continuing in the hereafter. We begin by seeking communion with Christ and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, in the church, that we may learn from and strengthen each other.

There’s another important point that I would like to make about mystical unity in the body of Christ. We should see each other as members of one divine family, not as belonging to competing tribes of people. Humans by nature tend to be very tribalistic. We notice our differences and pay attention to them more than we focus on what unites us — that’s our natural tendency in the world of flesh, which it takes a special intention to overcome.

That’s why Paul taught that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” [Gal. 3:28]. If he were writing to the churches today, he might add that there is neither black or white, straight or gay, liberal or conservative. Our true identity is our oneness in Christ, not our division according to the categories of this world.

When we turn to Christ, we can more easily overcome our prejudices and our desire to identify with the self-interest of one group of people over another. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and political and culture wars can be diminished when we look at each other as simply human beings who are part of God’s family — who aspire to become more like Christ, and who struggle, each of us in our own way, to achieve that goal.

When we turn to Christ, we can more easily overcome our prejudices and our desire to identify with the self-interest of one group of people over another.

There have been many examples throughout history, and even today, of Christians discriminating against each other based on their worldly characteristics, such as color, gender, or other identifying features. But if we are part of the body of Christ, we are called to overcome such a mentality, which is part of the world of sin rather than the will of God. We are also called to resist the temptation for revenge against people of other identity groups in this world that have done wrong to people like ourselves.

I would go so far as to say that Christians should look at all human beings as our brothers and sisters in the spirit, regardless of their religious beliefs. If God is “the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” [1 Tim. 4:10], and if God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” [1 Tim. 2:4], then surely God can bring this to pass in the fullness of time. Our own attitude toward people who have not yet come to believe in Christ may play an important role in helping or hindering them in their spiritual journey. If we love and embrace them rather than judge them, and if we can show them how our relationship with Christ is empowering us to become better human beings, then we are doing the work of God to which we have been called.

Although I believe all religions have something good to offer, there is something special about the faith of Christ that I don’t think the average Christian appreciates enough: the teaching that God has not just created us, but is our loving Father and Mother who continues to guide us. God has a Son, Jesus Christ, who is our Elder Brother. We are given an example to follow and a spiritual family to belong to, in this world and the world to come. The Divine Family includes all people who choose to be part of it, and no one is forever disowned by God. Any human being — no matter how far they have fallen into sin — is welcome to repent and return to oneness in reconciliation, through the infinite love and mercy of God as expressed in the cross of Jesus Christ.

When we remember his broken body upon the cross, and the blood that Jesus shed for us, let us be inspired to build up the mystical body of Christ in the church, and symbolically to let the blood of Christ flow through our veins, giving us strength to become progressively re-formed in the divine image. For when we are born again in the Spirit, we are one kin with God and with each other.

Watch on video (starting at 7:41):