The human body is composed of billions of individual cells. Because these cells work together, I am what I am. Behind these bald facts is the wonder that composed of cells, as I am, that I work at all. Billions of cells all going about their respective business in an apparently uncontrolled and random fashion do so, for most of the time, in complete harmony. The randomness of cells is apparent only but is really controlled by chemical messengers we call hormones, and by individual cells ‘talking’ to each other. Truly, ‘we are fearfully and wonderfully made’ [Ps. 134.19].
In nature some organisms we count as primitive actually enjoy a level of sophisticated cellular ‘togetherness’ that makes our own look like an early version. For example, if I break down a sponge (and sponges are primitive) into its component cells, and then I suspend the cells in solution, the cells will find their way back to each other to reassemble themselves as a sponge. Sponge cells have the urge, as all cells do, to continue ‘to be’, no matter what.
Christians are called to find their ‘being’ in Christ through his Body, the Church. We are ‘the Body of Christ, and severally members of each other’ [1 Cor. 12.27]. Like cells in a human body we are each a unit, complete in itself, yet without use or purpose alone. We are not able, truly, to exist without each other. Christ constantly calls the Church into being through the work of the Holy Spirit in order that we may grow ‘to mature manhood, the measure of the stature of Christ’ [Eph. 4.13].
It may be the case that, in the physical sense, as individuals we are complete. Yet we can only become what we are truly called to be, by God the Holy Trinity, by being in communion with him and each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. As the human body is what it is because the cells from which it is composed work together, so it is for the Church when we, its constituent parts, work in harmony.
Call to communion
It may be true that, in our local situation in the Church of England, we may sometimes feel like my sponge, as though someone has smashed us to pieces and we have become a disparate group of individual cells. Yet such is the imperative to be in communion with Christ and each other that we must devote more rather than less time to the achievement of this goal, no matter what.
We are called to practise, at all times and in all places, as far as in us lies, the virtues by which men and women are drawn to each other in communion. We are to become ‘connected’ in order that the Church may grow and nourish. I speak of the virtues of ‘cooperation’, doing things together; ‘interdependence’, the need for each other; and finally ‘loving openness’, to allow others into our lives and hearts.
These virtues do not come without risk, principally the risk of rejection. Yet it is only when we are prepared to take the risk that we stand any chance of fulfilling in ourselves, corporately and individually, that inspirational statement of St Athanasius that ‘God was made man so that man might become God.’