This is the strangest Holy Week I have ever experienced. Every other year I have looked forward to remembering the Passion of Jesus and celebrating what that means for my life and my eternity with large groups of people who share the same beliefs. This year, I will still remember and celebrate Jesus and I will do it with a large group of believers, but it will be over the internet. The sanctuary of our church will not echo with the enthusiasm of the many, and I will not see there faces. It is not my preferred way of living out Holy Week.
This virus imposed isolation has raised for me the issue of what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ. It is easier to feel part of something that you see. My perception of unity was largely connected with the members of my congregation, but the Body of Christ is a much bigger thing than my congregation.
Christians are a diverse group. They have different languages, races, cultures, histories and, yes, we are not completely unified in doctrine. We are headed toward a perfect unity where all things are held in common. In the mean time, our unity is formed by our common Savior. There is a bond between every true disciple of Jesus and Jesus. This bond is not intellectual (common beliefs), though Jesus is trying to teach us all the same truth. It is not emotional (common love), though if we get beyond our sinful, divisive nature it could be. It is supernatural or mystical. Jesus is in me and I am in Jesus and so are all who belong to Him. What that precisely means is hard to conceptualize, but it is not a metaphor.
The phrase “in Christ” is all over the New Testament. John 6:56 connects it with the Lord’s Supper in a way that too few understand and outsiders would find repulsive.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in Him.
The speech that contains this line was so hard to understand and offensive that the majority of Jesus’ initial disciples left because of it. Jesus didn’t call them back to dismiss what He said as figurative. That tells you something.
The supernatural bond we have with Jesus has two important aspects: Us in Jesus, and Jesus in us. Us in Jesus is actually the way that God saves us as sinners under His law. It is a little hard to explain, so bear with me. A useful comparison is found in how the Jews and other cultures viewed their ancestors. Abraham, considered the first Jew, is thought to have the whole nation of future Jews within in body. In a real sense he did. He had genetic material that could be found with modest modification in every Jew to this day. We could all be thought of as being within Adam. Unfortunately, we do carry along the genetic damage of our sinful natures which Adam began. Jesus is another “pinnacle” person. Though we are not genetically connected to Him, God bonds us to Jesus, His obedience and His death sentence through baptism. We are “in” Jesus, when it comes to how we stand before the love and judgment of God.
Having Jesus “in” us is a little easier. Jesus does not dwell in us merely through our memories or our beliefs. Jesus connects to us through the Holy Spirit and continues his ministry through our words and actions. We are “possessed”. The actual physical path of this happening is unknown. I would guess that Jesus has a way to interact either with our soul or more directly to our brain.
Some decent theologians reject the idea that John 6:53-58 is about the Lord’s Supper. They do so because it seems to suggest that we must “eat” Jesus’ flesh and “drink” Jesus’ blood to have eternal life. There is no other place that suggests the Lord’s Supper is a pre-condition of salvation. If it is not about the Lord’s Supper, what is it about? Every other answer fails in my opinion. This passage is about being “in Christ”. Being “in Christ” is not an intellectual exercise. It starts with what Jesus does to us in baptism and continues through the use of the Lord’s Supper. This passage is about the Lord’s Supper, it is not just about the Lord’s Supper.
Eating somebody’s body and drinking their blood would be an appalling experience. It is equally appalling symbolism if that were what it is. Jesus is being literal. It is just that God has supernatural, I would guess extra-dimensional, ways of making it happen.
This brings me back to empty room created by Covid-19 and 1 Corinthians 10:17:
Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
Those made into “one body” are not unified because they ate from the same piece of bread. Nor are they unified because they shared the exact same understanding of Jesus. They are not unified because they were at the same celebration of the Lord’s Supper. They are unified because they are all connected to the same Savior (the one loaf), Jesus Christ. They are in Christ and Christ is in them.
We don’t have to be in the same room. Covid-19 can’t divide the body of Christ. The body of Christ is already all over the world. While not having a mass celebration of Easter together is a bit of a bummer, we all need to remember the reality of what we are and what has been done for us. We are the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is done with the forsakenness that is the sentence for sin.