The Mystical Body of Christ
Almost four months have passed since our final Wittenberg 2017 gathering and I have written little about it. I have not put to paper or pixel any reflections on the event which for so many years blessed us, focused our energies, called us to prayer, consumed our time and resources, forged eternal friendships, and we pray, served as an instrument of healing for some members of the Body of Christ. This surprises me. I think I have not written because the path down which the Lord has led me since Wittenberg has also surprised me. He has taken me back to the beginning.
After the final W2017 meeting, I did not return home immediately. Instead I traveled on to Austria and spent some time with our friends and co-laborers, the brains behind W2017, Hans-Peter and Verena Lang. One night the three of us indulged in a bit of nostalgia, staying up late to look at pictures from past Wittenberg gatherings, six years of photos! Then we kept going. The Langs showed me pictures of a prayer journey they had taken in the summer of 2017 visiting sites in Austria where Anabaptists had been persecuted. As they recounted their story, I remembered teachings we heard at Wittenberg - about men drowned for their faith, about women whose tongues were cut out for giving testimony of their relationship with Jesus, about children forcibly taken from parents - and in the quiet of the Lang’s home, I began grieving the loss of these brothers and sisters.
The next morning I found myself on the floor in prayer, in sorrow, for our sin as a Church regarding the Anabaptists, but also for pain closer to home – for friends whose marriages were strained, for those suffering from loneliness, or depression, for those reeling from the trauma of abuse. As I lay before the Lord in this grief, I had a vision. I saw Jesus with His arms outstretched, head bowed in pain. Though He was not nailed to a cross, He was clearly in agony with gaping holes and bloody wounds in His body. I understood immediately that I was seeing the mystical Body of Christ composed of many members throughout time, spread across the globe. The wounds were the suffering of all who belong to the Head. There were big gaps in the Body representing whole groups who had been persecuted – Anabaptists, Coptic martyrs, early Catholic converts in Japan. But there were also wounds for each individual member of the Body – those hurting from divorce or rejection, illness or injustice. I understood that this image, though mystical, was very real. Jesus does, in fact, hurt when the members of His Body hurt. This is the beauty of our mystical union with Him, the depth of His love for us.
I continued gazing in awe of our Savior when something new happened. The Holy Spirit, like a wind, began moving in and out of the wounds. As the Spirit moved, the wounds were healed and strength returned to that part of the Body. I was touched and awed at this Trinitarian mystery. The Father sends the Son to rescue a Bride, one which will become “flesh of His flesh.” Jesus submits to the will of the Father, even unto death. The Holy Spirit ministers to the Son. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, guided by the Spirit, rejoiced in the Spirit. Now the Spirit renews and brings life to His mystical Body. This is glory of the Trinity in motion – as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.
My personal call to the ministry of reconciliation began nineteen years ago when Jesus, in His love, gave me a great gift. I experienced, for a moment, to the degree my mortal frame could bear it, the pain He feels over division in the Church. So it was a bittersweet moment when He took me back to that place within days of our final Wittenberg gathering. His Body is still suffering from many wounds, not just division. I see with certainty now that Jesus spoke truly when He said that anyone who visits a prisoner or shares food with one in need ministers to Him. This is the nature of the Body; it cannot be separate from the Head. Neither can the Head fail to feel the pain, or the joy, of each member.
I know also that the Spirit is at work. The Father will not leave His Son in this wounded state forever anymore than He would abandon Jesus to the grave. This is excellent news for us! As we share in Christ’s suffering, we also will share in His glory. He sends the Spirit to minister, to heal. And so, since Wittenberg 2017 has ended, I cry all the more urgently, “Come Holy Spirit!”