As we discussed in the first of this three-part series on the Mystical Body of Christ, we the followers and disciples of Christ are united to each other by being members of His body. We all have gifts that we are called to use in service to Him and we are all one with the entire Body itself; by virtue of this, we are intimately connected to each other as cells within a body are all connected with the body of which they are a part.
Our Union with Christ
If we were to stop at how we are united with each other, though, then that would not be enough. For all this discussion of parts of the body being united with each other does not answer the more fundamental question: who’s body is it that we are actually united within?
Our unification to each other can only make sense by knowing the very person in whose body we are unified. That person is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. It is only by being part of the Body of Christ that we are unified to each other in the first place; only in our service to our one Lord Jesus Christ can we say of each other that we are ‘one body’.
We see within Scripture that Christ is described as ‘the head’ (Ephesians 4: 15) while the body is described as ‘the church’ (Ephesians 5: 29-30), the communion of believers; and yet this body is not truly our body, but ‘Christ’s body’ (1Corinthians 12: 27). So what does this all mean? How does this relate to our unity with Christ?
To answer this, we must be able to understand what it means for Christ to be the ‘head’ and what that means in reference to the ‘body’. Theologically-speaking, there appear to be at least three fundamental ways of interpreting this so as to help us understand our relationship with Christ:
- Christ as the leader of the Church
- Christ as the lifeline of the Church
- Christ as the creator of the Church
Christ as Leader of the Church
Just as none of the individual parts of the body, as amazing as they are, can function without the head guiding and telling the parts of the body what to do, so it is with the Mystical Body. Christ is the ‘head’ in that He is the leader. He guides us where we must go in order to bring about ‘the body’s growth’ and to ‘build itself up in love’ (Ephesians 4: 16). The head is the only part of the body that truly knows what is best for the entirety of the body as well as each individual part.
Christ as Lifeline of the Church
If the body has no head, then the body has no life. It is as simple as that. Christ is not merely that which helps us grow; He is the sine qua non, the foundation without which no life is possible. If you cut off the head of a body then the body will die. Without Christ leading us we have no life. In fact, it could even be said that we are no longer part of the Body of Christ if we decide to cut off Christ from our lives, because by doing so we would be killing our very self. This is a contradiction within the Body of Christ, for Christ’s body is a body of everlasting life. Without such a source, we have nothing but death ahead of us.
Christ as Creator of the Church
The various parts of the body have many gifts and talents, but such gifts and talents can only be actualized by Christ; any and all things that can and do exist do so purely by God’s willing it to happen. It is only by the One who leads us (if we allow Him) that we can become members of His body and have a participatory role in it, for though the members of the Church collective make up the body it is ultimately, by the grace of God, He that creates the body, even the tiniest and most insignificant-looking cells.
It is through this that we can explain how we, the Church, are the body and yet the Body is ultimately Christ’s; being the Head makes Him not just the Head but the entirety of the Body itself, forever intertwined with those whom He calls and those who answer His call to partake of His Divine self. He is the leader because He is the lifeline, which is because He is the creator.
It is because our very gifts, our very life, and our very existence all come from and depend upon Him at every single moment that He can be said to be the ‘head’. The relationship between the head of a body and the body itself is always one of servitude, but also always one of unison.
May we, the body of Christ, by His grace, follow His will in uniting ourselves to Him daily, understanding that He is the one that created us, He is the one that sustains us, and He is the one that guides us. Amen.