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The broken body of Christ

5.5. 2009 1,032 read

Grace and Truth

“The body of Christ, broken for you.” Communion draws us into brokenness. We don’t turn and run from this torn body. We don’t hide the wounds with a Band-Aid. At the Lord’s Table we can’t help but wait with brokenness. Through our remembering we tarry with the crucified Savior and come to discover that we also share in that brokenness. His wounds expose our own, or at least call us to consider our wounds. His torn flesh offers a window into our fractured lives. We find ourselves in his body. As the great spiritual writer Sebastian Moore puts it, the crucified Jesus is no stranger. In Christ, God becomes familiar with our broken human condition. God is no stranger to shattered, scattered bodies.

While this broken condition certainly applies to us individually, it also has to do with our communal bodies: our congregations and our denomination. In his book A Precarious Peace, Chris Huebner helps us think about this reality: “The church [is] a kind of dislocated identity … a strange body that exists in a precarious state of unsettled tornness.” Our Mennonite identity is always disturbed; the church is broken; our congregations are torn. People come and go. Disagreements reemerge and threaten to drive us apart. Congregations dissolve, and others are born.

The church is in a precarious state of unsettled tornness. That’s simply what it means to be the body of Christ. We shouldn’t attempt to hide our divisions and our wounds. In fact, we confess that this tornness is part of the good news. “The body of Christ, broken for you.”

The tearing and scattering of the body of Christ took on new meaning for me a few months ago when Dave and Laura Nickel joined our congregation. Martha, one of our deacons, led the congregation through our liturgy to welcome them as new members. I closed the service with a prayer: “God, we ask you to build up this congregation through the continual outpouring of your gifts, gifts like Laura and Dave, so that we might receive the grace to uphold one another in the faith.”

These new members infuse our church with new life. They are the enfleshed movement of the Holy Spirit. Laura and Dave joined our humble little flock and now help us discern what Christ’s body looks like where we live. With their presence come the gifts needed for us to be faithful.

Laura and Dave transferred their membership from the Mennonite congregations of their youth. Their migration bears witness to the tornness of our church. It is too easy for my joy at their membership to blind me from the two churches that now experience loss. The bodies of Salem-Zion Mennonite Church (Freeman, S.D.) and Bethel Mennonite Church (Mountain Lake, Minn.) have been broken for my congregation.

When I consider such debts, all I can say is thank you. Thankfulness is what I’ve learned at the Lord’s Table. At our Communion celebration, the loaf is torn into smaller and smaller pieces as it feeds many. We eat and say thank you. The oldest name for this practice is “Eucharist,” which comes from a Greek word for thanksgiving. Communion is about gratitude; what is broken gives us life.

Thank you, Salem-Zion and Bethel. In many respects, your churches come with their presence. Your presence is felt in our midst through all that you’ve poured into Dave and Laura. Your life flows through them and now gives us life. We depend on these two gifts from your churches. Laura and Dave have become missionaries who share with us the good news they have learned from you. Through their presence, we discover how our congregations are broken pieces of the same loaf.

Isaac Villegas is pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship.

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