By Richard L. Willowby
Happy Easter! Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord of the church. Jesus is the center of the universe. Jesus is raised from the dead. The church’s greatest thanksgiving pours out for the sacrifice of Jesus on the bloody hill of Golgotha. The church’s greatest celebration yet leaps to meet Jesus’ resurrection. The church’s greatest hope will be fulfilled in the consummation of the victory when Jesus gathers the church unto himself and to God for eternity.
In the meantime…
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (1 Cor 12:27). Jesus continues to be present in this world through the church, which is his body. To understand the church in any other terms is to misunderstand it and to misunderstand the mission of Jesus himself.
Jesus’ time with the disciples prepared them for the leadership for what he would leave behind after his death, resurrection, and ascension—namely himself, still present through those he adds to the church. Just as God was in Jesus incarnate, so Jesus himself is in the church incarnate. It is a truth difficult to grasp, but until we grasp it we merely stumble about as toddling children, unable to walk in a straight line or cover any distance without collapse.
Jesus intended to create a church that would be even more powerful than his own human presence. He was not calling a bunch of independent, unrelated individuals upon whom he could shower his riches. He was—and is—calling and forming a people who, united, become Christ in the world.
The church really is the people you worship with on Sunday morning or Saturday night or Wednesday night. It really is other Christians who worship down the road and it really is something beyond what we can see, touch, feel, and label.
Jesus is not pleased with any division in his body. It is as painful to him as a physical separation of parts of our own bodies would be to us. We are made one by Jesus, we are to be kept by the Spirit in the bonds of peace (Eph 4:3). Jesus desires our oneness and gave his life to achieve it.
The paradox here is that we cannot just be one in some kind of touchy-feely, universal way. If oneness is to have any meaning, we must be one with the people in our congregation and our congregation must be one with other congregations. We can’t just run around wherever we want and “attend church.” We are not called to attend church. We are called to be the church. That means we are bound to each other whether we like each other or not. Nor can we escape our oneness with those we don’t like by worshiping somewhere else—at least we cannot escape without wounding our Lord, our brothers, our sisters, and ourselves in the process.
This body of Christ is on mission, the same mission as that of the Jesus of the Gospels. This Easter, let’s give our Lord a gift and act as if we are one and act as if we are on mission. Instead of beating each other up, let’s discuss our differences in love. Instead of running off in every direction, let’s unite to reach men and women, girls and boys with the call to join us as Christ’s body, and let’s help each other and those evangelized to grow into full maturity measured by the stature of Jesus himself. After all, isn’t that who we really want to be like?
Happy birthday, Jesus.
An author and ordained minister, Richard Willowby served as director of product and sales for the church ministries division of Warner Press. Article originally published in the April 1996 issue of Vital Christianity. Republished by permission.