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August 24, 2014

Helen Jacobi

Isaiah 51:1-6     Psalm 138     Romans 12:1-8     Matthew 16: 13-20


A couple of weeks ago I attended performances at Q Theatre by the Touch Compass Dance Co. They are a contemporary dance company and the choreography centred around a large box – big enough to dance in – with trapdoors and windows – as they moved in and out with amazing speed. The first dance though was slow with lots of freeze frames of bodies in different poses in the box. One of the dancers though is unable to ever be completely still and her tremor was then incorporated as a movement into the dance by the others as they moved into the next phase. This particular dancer is unable to be absolutely still as she has cerebral palsy and normally gets around in a wheelchair;

on stage she moved with speed and beauty. Another of the dancers has arms which finish at the elbows and her partner dancer moved across the floor on his elbows incorporating her body as the “norm” for that part of their the dance.


Half of the dancers with Touch Compass have a disability; half do not. In conversation you will hear them talked about as “the dancers” and “the non-disabled dancers”. To watch a Touch Compass performance is to first of all enjoy great dancing; and then to be challenged by the images they present of what is “normal” and who can be included and who can inspire. In their dance all of the bodies of the dancers become one body, connected via movement and music to present a level of beauty and depth of experience which would not be possible alone.


St Paul in his letter to the Romans asks the Christians of Rome “to present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God”. This is language the Romans would have understood as very political. Instead of offering a sacrifice to the Roman Emperor who was seen as a god, they no longer make an offering at an altar of Rome, but offer their whole lives to God. For some this meant in the way they lived;

for others it would be in the way they died. Like the Christians of Mosul today they were forced to make a choice – declare Caesar as Lord or die. They chose Jesus as Lord. Paul then goes on to use the image of the body as an image for their church community. This metaphor of the body is something found in all of Paul’s writings. “We who are many, are one body in Christ.” And he uses a play on words which works in English as well as the Greek – in one body we have many members – the body has different members, or limbs; the church body has many members and each have a different role, different but equal in value. There must have been a lot of debate in the early church about one person or one group being better or more worthy than another, because Paul is forever reminding them that there are many gifts and all contribute to the whole. And all are needed to complete the church community.


“We who are many, are one body in Christ” – we who gather 2000 years on from the first Christians in Rome – we who are many, down through the generations, are still one body. We struggle mightily across the world to see ourselves as “one” with Christians from many theological bases. Today though I want us to think about how we are the body as the community of faith here at St Matthew’s. We may well struggle mightily with that idea too. Are we just random individuals who come together on a Sunday drawn by music, the beauty of the building, and the sense of the history of this place? Do we leave as the same random individuals? Does it matter if we are here or not?

Does it matter to the person next to us if we turn up; will they notice?


What might it mean to “belong” to St Matthew’s? People belong by attending on a Sunday; people belong by watching our sermons online and praying our liturgies from afar; people belong by getting married here; and baptized here; people belong by donating to the life of the community or a special project like the organ. The people who sleep in our pews during the week and in our porches at night belong. We are all connected by this place, this turangawaewae; we are all part of the one body.


In Paul’s writing he at times says we are one body in Christ (Rom 12:5) and at other times he says we are the body of Christ (eg 1 Cor 12:27). We are united in our common faith in Christ, and in turn therefore, we become the body of Christ in the world. We are the hands and heart of Christ in our world continuing his work of love and service and sacrifice. And that is most certainly something we can never achieve alone and so we come together each week, physically present, to be the community and to embody Christ. We come together to rehearse again and again our reliance on God and on each other and to recognize that alone we can only be a hand or a foot or an eye and that we need the rest of the body to function.


Then adding a final layer of complexity to his metaphor Paul tells us that we are receiving the body of Christ when we break the bread and share it in the eucharist. “The bread we break is a sharing in the body of Christ. We who are many are one body for we all share the one bread.”A lot of the instructions we have about the eucharist from Paul are given because the communities in both Corinth and Rome were not sharing “the one bread”. The eucharist was a meal, and the host and other wealthy members provided the food, but it was still very countercultural for people of all social classes to eat together and so it seems there was a “top table” for the wealthy and the host’s guests, and the rest ate inferior food, if any at all.[1] So when Paul says “we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor 10:17) he means literally: stop eating different meals and come together as one, to share from the same loaf and so become the body of Christ.


And so we do - We come to worship, physically, with our bodies, as well as our hearts and minds. Anglican worship is very physical – we stand, sit, kneel, sing and recite together, we bow, we trace the sign of the cross, touch hands as we share peace, we listen, watch, eat and drink, “dancing the peculiar ballet of the people of God”[2]. And Paul tells us, now we are one, and so we are given gifts with which to serve. We leave this place not as random individuals but now as one body, dancing together, incorporating the gifts of each who are here in the way we go out to serve together as a community. And we leave also to go about our individual lives and ministries but supported by our community of faith, not alone as we meet the challenges of being a teacher, a lawyer, a shop asst, a mother, a musician, a community volunteer, a grandparent, a nurse, business owner, a student …

We can feel connected and supported and then return next week to be the one body again and to be fed.


The dancers from Touch Compass dance in a way that brings wholeness and completeness to performance because they show you do not need a so called “perfect body” to be a dancer.

And they show that together you can create something with a complementarity that it is impossible to do alone. That is why I am a priest, because I believe that in gathering a community at the altar it is possible to draw out the gifts of the body and set it to work in the service of God.

We have much work to do as the body of Christ in this place.

I am looking forward to discovering what that work might be.







[1] Gerd Theissen The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity p160


[2] Barbara Brown Taylor The Preaching Life p 65

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