Tuesday, May 14, 2013

#458: The Church: The Body of Christ

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1:18-23 

I once heard of a child who described the church as "Jesus... but with skin on." I don't think there could be a better picture of what we are called to be. I would go a step farther. Unless a group of people are acting as the physical hands and feet of Christ in the world, they have no business calling themselves a church at all. There is a word for a body devoted to its own pleasure. If all you are finding on Sunday morning is a great feeling of piety and warmth, then you are in a vibrant social club, but not a church.

A church should have blisters on its hands and scrapes on its knuckles. There should be sweat on the floor and tears in the corners of every room. It should be a safe place when you are in danger, and a challenging place when you are comfortable. It should make people better than they knew they could be. The church needs to be more like the YMCA.

When I lived in Brooklyn, there was a little Catholic church up the street from us. Old Italians would walk by and cross themselves on the sidewalk as they passed the front door on their way to the store or the train station. The church had such presence for them that it reached all the way out through the stone walls and heavy wooden doors. They didn't even have to look up. They could feel it coming. 

Today, our churches have a hard time being that kind of presence. Instead, they are closed clubs, tiny groups of people who gather once a week to agree with each other about how silly the people who think differently are. Even when that isn't the message  from the pulpit, (and far too often, it is precisely that,) even then, it is the gospel of superiority that inflames the hearts of the faithful. We gather together to mourn for the people who don't think like we do, worship like we do, love like we do. And all the while, the body of Christ hangs abandoned on the cross, hands pinned to the bloody wood - because we won't lift him down and do the work he did.

To feed.

To heal.

To wash.

To serve.

To love.

And this is why I love the YMCA... why I ache with hunger for her when I can't be there. Because at the Y - at least at the one where I work - Christ's hands are busy 24 hours a day. They are holding the shoulders of a child who has fallen and misses his Momma. They are bandaging skinned knees and stretching tight hamstrings. They prepare coffee and clean bathrooms and mow grass and all with love for the people who will walk in the door. 

These too, are the body of Christ. The guy who is drunk at 5:35 AM and needs a cup of coffee. The mom who doesn't know where to look for a safe place for her children while  she works out. The man whose job leaves him feeling hollow inside, who just longs for the feeling of a pounding heart and a sweating brow. The kid who can either hang out on the street, or play ball in they gym. The young woman who wants to feel the joy of exercise without the hassle of pick-up lines and smarmy remarks. The great grandfather who can barely walk, but still swims a mile a day. They are all the Christ who is hungry or naked or in prison.  Jesus walks in my door every day at the Y. And I do my best to love him with all my heart, every single time. 

People have told me that I "get" the Y. That I understand what the YMCA is all about. I don't know if that's true. All I know is what I've found there. Love at work. Holiness that sweats.

Jesus... but with skin on.


*I love the statue in this photo. Can anyone tell me where it is, so I can give credit where it is due? - Pennsy

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