Paul’s words in our Epistle reading today about the parts of the body and the Body of Christ ring especially true to me, since I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life dealing in “body parts.” As a surgical pathologist, I’ve pretty much seen every kind of human body part imaginable, separated from the larger body, and submitted to me in a container of formalin. I have marveled over the years at the resilience of the human body, and how we adjust and function without some body parts, or with less than a whole organ. For instance, we can get along quite well without our gallbladder, or our appendix. (Some day I’m going to ask God, “So why the appendix anyway? All it ever does is get inflamed. It has no useful purpose in humans like it does in rabbits.) We can get along on one kidney, one lung, or one parathyroid gland. We can even get along without all of our brain, or all of our heart muscle.
All that said, there’s a place where we know losing too much, is…well…too much…and it’s incompatible with life, or we live in a diminished physical capacity.
The body of Christ, it seems, is a great deal more finicky than that. It truly needs all the parts to be whole–and in this flawed world, we are always short a part or two. Every part needs the other–going it alone is not an option.
Paul’s words remind me of a dream I once had, many years ago, as my pathology boards loomed heavy in my mind. A few weeks before my board exams, I dreamed I was at the gate of heaven, and I saw a mountain. As I walked closer, I realized the mountain was thousands of plastic containers–the containers surgical pathology specimens are in when they are submitted! Also, a number of people were standing around. Turns out they all wanted their parts back–they wanted to be whole…and in my dream I was reading the names on the containers, as if I were handing out Christmas presents, giving people back their parts. “Here’s your left lower leg, Mr. Jones–wear it in good health. Mrs. Green, here’s your spleen. Glad you two are back together.” What I realize now, but didn’t know back then, was this was more than an “exam anxiety dream.” It was a dream about a priesthood I had not even yet comprehended in my mind. I wasn’t even attending church in those days. Yet time, and a new perspective have taught me that even then, I had a desire to be a part of what makes other people whole. I wanted to do my part to make the Body of Christ as complete as it could possibly be.
Paul reminds us that in the Body of Christ, no part is expendable. Every part–from head to foot, has a function, and the function of the body as a whole is to praise God. Yet that body–marvelous as it is–can always use another part–us. Our part–whatever its function, whether it’s big or small–helps the whole body function better, and it would not be the same without each of us.
How might each of us live more fully into the part of the body of Christ that is us? What can you do to “give others their parts back” so they can be whole, too?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri as a Priest Associate at Church of the Good Shepherd and Chaplain of the Community of St. Brigid, both in Town and Country, MO.