There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Ephesians 4:4-6).
In today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus, we encounter the physical realities which reveal to the fallen world that the Christian is set apart from its mad cycle of sin and death. For 3 chapters, St. Paul has been laying out the true history of the universe by showing us how the eternal purposes of God have come together on the cross of Christ and the outpouring of the divine Spirit. Paul invites us all to celebrate the victory which begins the new creation—freeing us from the old story which still haunts us in our moments of disobedience and despair. That old story of humanity, given a new name each generation, is a lived through alienation from God and distance from our immortal brothers and sisters made in God’s image and likeness. We feel that distance even now. Can we look into the eyes of the person we love most in the world and truly know them in the way we know ourselves? No, even the most faithful couples or closest sets of siblings or best friends for life are still lacking the unity which would abolish the deep pit of loneliness which drives so much of the human experience. Adam and Eve, the first humans to bind themselves to this story of alienation and separation, responded to God’s fatherly call by hiding from Him in the garden He created to sustain their every need. They were ashamed and afraid, and so they hid from the only being who could save them from their new inward turned prisons. Our distance from each other is a symptom of our distance from God, and so God the Son came to destroy this distance. He became one of us to re-unite us with the God who lovingly created us, He died for us so that we would never again have to hide from God’s justice and love.
A result of this recreated humanity, this restored communion between Man and his Creator, is a fractured humanity being reunited with itself. As St. Paul tells us today, after all that God has done to save us and redeem us, our response to God’s call cannot be to hide in the darkness of our alienated selves and fallen feelings; no, we must ‘…walk in a manner worthy of the calling…’ (Ephesians 4:1). Take notice of this word ‘walk,’ mark it well, because to walk is a physical action of the whole heart, body, and soul. It is simply not enough for us to have the right ideas floating around in our heads; it simply isn’t enough to identify as a Christian on some form; no, St. Paul is describing the disciplined life of the disciple following Christ wherever He leads. Blessedly, one can ‘walk’ when he doesn’t feel like walking, as anyone who has spent some time in the military can verify. Nowhere in this description of the Christian life does the apostle link how things make us feel to whether or not we should do them. We are called to walk, to put one foot in front of the other, trusting that our King and Lord is leading us home. We have the wrong metaphor in our head if we imagine this walk of holiness to be primarily therapeutic: it is not. This walk is a journey out of the sinful ghettos of our fallen feelings and desires into the rhythm and new life of the Body of Christ. It is this new Body which walks across the earth, answering the call in thankful, loving obedience to the God who has created this saving union as humanity’s last and only hope.
So then, how do we live within this new saving union? St. Paul writes, ‘…walk…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:2-3).
We respond to this God made union of Jews and Gentiles, men and women, tax collectors and fishermen, not by hiding within ourselves or within our homes or within our temporary earthly families; no, we answer the call of God by aiding the Holy Spirit in destroying the selfish prisons humanity locks from the inside. We are to dynamite the strongholds of selfishness in which we cower and seek every opportunity to live in humble, desperate imitation of the God who has saved us. After all, this whole list is the attributes of God without which we would all be damned. If God the Son had not humiliated Himself by being born a man and dying naked on a cross, we would all be damned. If God the Father does not treat humanity with a gentleness and patience we do not deserve, we would all be damned. And if the Holy Spirit, does not eagerly dwell in the hearts of justified but sinful men, binding them to the peace made at the cross, we would all be damned. The Body of Christ must walk in this worthy manner because it must follow God with every step it takes—there is no other way to be a Christian because there is no other way to be the new human Body which heralds the beginning of the new creation.
But, how is this new creation possible? St. Paul writes, ‘There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Ephesians 4:4-6). The radical unity put forward here by St. Paul, accentuated by using the word ‘one’ seven times in a single sentence, is ignored or domesticated at our peril. The greatest threat to the unity being revealed here is not the apparent disunity of the Christian jurisdictions of the world; no, the greatest threat is the relativism of the 20th century: the dictator of our hearts and minds who rules almost unchallenged in the public square. More insidious than any previous philosophy, relativism takes the saving reality of God’s real work in salvation-history and tosses it into a blender with all the false gospels and half-truths which poison the souls of men. This evil doctrine comes out whenever we think or say, ‘Who can know the truth?’ or ‘My truth is as good as your truth?’ or as Pontius Pilate would say, ‘What is truth?’ I know this poison well because it has been fed to me my whole life, and I am sure you know it too. In fact, we know it so well we bristle at an attack upon it, but it needs to be more than attacked—it needs to be crucified along with all the superstitions and lies with which human beings have sullied themselves.
Which brings us back to the one body created by the one Spirit; the one hope, one faith, and one baptism created by the one Lord and willed by the one God and Father of us all. We live in a disordered age in which the visible, institutional unity of Christ’s church has been denied by the sinful men who have lived in her and led her. We must never forget that for a thousand years after Christ’s resurrection, despite heresy and schism, the catholic Christian church showcased a miraculous amount of unity to the pagan world, and this unity was a key factor in the spread of God’s lifesaving Word and Sacraments. And then, that unity was thrown away in service to power and idolatry. Just as St. Paul suffered through the mystery of iniquity in a Roman jail cell, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church must suffer through these years of institutional and visible disunity trusting in the unshakable purpose of God. It is a tragedy, but like all tragedies, God will not allow the sinfulness of men to upend the saving arc of history. On this side of the resurrection, the Body of Christ is a body crucified.
What we cannot do is bring pagan relativism into this passage and simply imagine that, since the church does not have perfect, visible unity, it means that we are not called to be a living part of the Body of Christ. If we are not a visible member of the Body of Christ, we are outside of the new creation St. Paul has been celebrating for the first 3 chapters of his letter. As true catholic Christians, we dutifully champion the communion of faith who have always defended the Word of God, and we call our brothers and sisters outside of that communion to join us. We are not called to walk as a hypothetical union of people who call themselves Christians; no, we are called to walks as a real body of believers, bound to each other and God by baptism and the communion through which the Holy Spirit maintains the actualized unity of the church. We are not independent truth seeking agents moving from religious experience to religious experience; no, we are one body moving through the fallen earth sustained by the Word purely preached, the Sacraments rightly administered, and the doctrine and faith of the apostles defended through our discipline, worship, and customs. Every other understanding of what it means to be a church is a modern invention too often fed by a thirst for power or our consumer culture. To become a member of Christ’s church is to be grafted into the Body of Christ, and to sever our membership—to be dismembered—is as grievous an injury to ourselves and the body as cutting off an arm.
And so, as Christians, as followers of the Anglican Way, as members or catechumens of Trinity Church, we must recognize the reality of the Body of Christ, and we must lovingly fight to make the unity which the Holy Trinity has given us be a reality within the actual body to which we belong. We must not trade away the often painful but transcendent communion of our church for the alienation and distance Christ came to destroy. We must, for the sake of our souls and our communities, fight to be ever more closely united within the Body of Christ.
Let us then be bound together in the unbreakable chains of Christ’s love and the unspeakable surety of the Sprit’s peace; let us grow and thrive in the unity established by the Father, and let us never be alone again.