The Simplest, Clearest Sign Post
There are quite a few verses and passages that describe the Church’s complete union with Christ and the Father. It is amazing to me that despite the wealth of metaphors and direct teaching, this isn’t a larger topic for meditation and preaching. It is not a new teaching by any means. In the 4th century C.E. the early church father Athanasius wrote, “God became man that man might become God.” (click here) I suspect that today issues like homosexuality and marriage equality, social justice and evangelism, and stewardship and biblical inerrancy may be easier to grasp.
One passage above others seems to me to be the simplest and clearest sign post pointing to the complete unity of Christ and the church. This passage is Ephesians 5:28-31. Normally I would begin at verse 25 because of the valuable marriage advice it contains, but I want to narrow the focus to this relatively neglected topic.
The Two Become One Flesh–Christ and the Church
In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of his body.
For this reason a man will leave
his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two will become one flesh.
This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:28-31 (Holman)
Paul moves back and forth, sometimes highlighting our own earth-bound marriages and sometimes focusing on the marriage of Christ and the Church. Most of us know that the phrase “one flesh” refers, at a bare minimum (no pun intended), to sex (as with a sex worker in I Corinthians 6:16), and also to the more thorough growing together that occurs during decades of marriage.
Here Paul uses the one flesh marriage experience to describes our relationship with Christ. Somehow sexual intimacy is analogous to our union with Christ. While the marital intimacy that flows from decades of companionship, shared struggles, shared memories, and suffering is part of our union with Christ, I think that one-flesh sexual intimacy is the most striking, even shocking, meaning present in Ephesians 5:31.
Fear and Trembling, and Paralysis
I feel that I have not sufficiently meditated on this since those first dim inklings back in high school. This understanding unfolded little by little between high school and college. When the enormity of this teaching strikes me, I feel stunned and overwhelmed, unable to comprehend what it meant. All I “knew” was that it was beyond my ability to take in. For me, the Church’s complete union with God has been a recurring experience of fear and trembling.
To this day I can feel paralyzed, similar to people in the Bible falling to the ground, paralyzed by the glory of the Lord. I have often felt the futility of even attempting to communicate this. But Jesus said, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops!” (Matthew 10:27)
I am Ignorant
I confess that I do not adequately understand Paul’s one flesh language regarding Christ and the Church. While there are long-haul relationship implications that flow from the one-flesh language, to me these don’t seem to constitute a “mega mystery” on the level suggested. Despite my “in a glass darkly” insight, I can point in a number of directions.
- Spontaneous Focus
- Powerful Emotion
- Absolute Forgetting
- Feelings Beyond Words
The problem is that I can understand these relative to individual believers, but how they relate to us as the Christian community in the third millenium is not simple for me. My past experience in an über-emotional pentecostal cult, the language of the Greek scriptures, and my own relationship with my bipolar emotions prevents me from drawing an easy connection between so-called worship and the bullet list above.
Two Things I Do Know
There is something I do know, in spite of the significant gaps in my knowledge. I know that our journey to complete unity is not a puzzle to be solved by intellectuals like myself. Our journey is the journey of the entire community. According to Ephesians 4:11-14 this journey can only be undertaken in community with others. We need each other (read: I need you).
Embrace Voluntary Shared Suffering
The second thing I know is that our willingness to embrace voluntary shared suffering is the a critical element in the process (see Romans 8:16-22 and Colossians 1:24-27). I will be discussing this in later posts.
Paul’s “Mega Mystery”
Paul calls our marriage a literal “mega mystery” (μέγα μυστήριον). It would have been nice if Paul had continued on and given us some additional insight into this mystery. Instead (at least here) he reiterates the his exhortation to love, and simply leaves us with a tantalizing clue regarding the mega mystery.
Pray that God would enlighten the eyes of our heart to understand Christ’s glorious inheritance in the saints, his Bride.
To Read More in this Series, click on The Bride of Christ is God.