and individually members of it."
-- 1 Corinthians 12:27
What a bright, fresh feeling it is to finally reach Easter after the long Lenten season. It feels a little like crawling out of a dark hole. Finally we can sing Alleluia again. The cross we were closing in on for so long turns into a launch pad to a new future. Lilies in church, the Christ candle lit, white linens on the altar and a whole new attitude. The trajectory of Christ’s journey stands revealed and hope is reborn in our hearts.
Our series for special services this past Lent was called “The Body of Christ.” Through special bulletins, dialogs and a modified worship format, we explored the hands, feet, eyes, ears, heart, blood and body of our Lord — how each part of his human body became an instrument for God to use in bringing his grace to the world through Jesus. The series culminated Easter morning at the 8am service with a look at the risen body of Christ at Easter and beyond. I heard more positive comments about this series than any other Lenten program we’ve done here at Atonement. The readings were powerful, the services short and focused, and the topic (at least to me) was truly captivating.
The climax at Easter was uncovered at the very start of the service in our call to worship. Again and again in the litany, we responded with those words from 1 Corinthians — “You are the body of Christ…” Not some hypothetical “you” that we might be someday if we can be good enough. Not a “you” meaning those who came after us or went before us. The “you” that is the body of Christ is the “you” that we are — that YOU are — right here and now. Guess what? You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.
After the service, our deacon Detlev came and asked if he could put that saying up on the sign: “You are the body of Christ.” And as powerful as those words are, and as good an idea as that was, I told him no. After all, it took us all of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to get to the point where we could boldly declare it in worship. These are words with special meaning, kind of like the sacraments. Much as I dislike “insider vs. outsider” distinctions, this is a designation directed mainly towards those who have been taught that special meaning. When we share the body and blood of Christ in communion, we try to be reasonably sure that the one receiving the sacrament has some sense of what it’s about. The same with this realization, this identification with Christ’s risen Easter body — it’s for disciples, for those called, enlightened, sanctified people we call the Church.
I don’t know if your wallet gets like mine does sometimes — overloaded with little plastic cards. Some are discount cards for gas or groceries, some gift cards for this or that restaurant. Then there’s the all-important drivers license and credit cards. And then there are a few like AAA, the hospital insurance cards and my official Florida-Bahamas Synod pastor card — the ones you don’t use often, but you better keep them with you just in case. Each of those cards you carry says you are a member of a certain group, plan, club, organization, or privileged clan of people. They identify something about you that indicates a connection, inclusion or benefit that belongs to you. These are privileges of membership, and we are all members of certain kinds of things.
Church membership also has privileges and benefits, but I want to talk about something much bigger than church membership. If there were membership cards for all the various groups you are part of or benefits that belong to you because of your membership in the body of Christ, your wallet would be too full to carry, much less to stuff it in your pocket. You were baptized into Christ. This means the call of discipleship is yours. The enlightenment of God’s Word is yours. The holy gifts of God’s Holy Spirit are yours. Your baptism and the seal of the cross that was made on your forehead are your membership cards for the body of Christ. They are a sign of… not church membership with a small “c” which makes you part of a congregation or denomination, but the big “c” Church Universal of Jesus Christ, that Holy Catholic Church we Lutherans have left in our creeds. As long as you carry that card with faith in your heart, you carry the name “Christian.”
But it is also true that whoever gets baptized at Atonement or affirms their faith here also becomes a member of our small “c” church as well, of our congregation and denomination. So you Atonement people are members of Atonement Lutheran Church and of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. If you’re female, then you’re a member of our WELCA (Women of the ELCA) women’s group. And as long as you are breathing and have a heartbeat, you are part of our Outreach team as well — with your job being to “share the love of Jesus” by “glorifying God” and “extending His Kingdom” alongside your fellow Atonement members.
But there’s more. We are part of a body of Lutheran congregations doing mission in the Tampa Bay area. As a member at Atonement, we serve in mission along with ELCA churches in Tampa, Temple Terrace, Carrolwood, Lutz, Apollo Beach and Sun City. Your membership at Atonement is also membership in this Tampa Conference of ELCA churches, and you are invited to their annual meeting on May 22 of this month, featuring dinner, elections, a guest speaker, and worship. Please let me know if you’d like to go!
Your Atonement membership means you’re also part of the Florida-Bahamas Synod, our regional group of ELCA congregations led by Bishop Bob Schaefer. Working together as a synod, we do mission projects and support other congregations and ministries such as Lutheran Services of Florida and Luther Springs camp. It also entitles you to be nominated to service on synodical committees and study groups, or to be a voting delegate to the annual synod convention. All this is not even mentioning all the agencies and groups you are connected to as a member of the ELCA with its nearly 10,000 congregations. Sheesh. If you start exploring all these gifts, connections, and benefits of membership, you may find it’s time to get a new wallet.