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It was during another public health crisis, some years back, that a church friend walked into a meeting wearing a button that said, “The body of Christ has AIDS.”
Those words shocked and moved and inspired me.
I realized how important it was to say those words, to affirm that whatever is suffered by one part of the body is suffered by all the body.
Today we are living with the idea that the body of Christ has Covid-19, which is another way of saying what the morning prayer liturgy lifts up as “the presence of Christ in our weakness and suffering.”1
The body of Christ is us, the church, the visible presence of Christ on earth.
We suffer with those who suffer.
We spike fevers and are wracked with coughing.
We stand in line at food pantries.
We long to see our children beyond the window of our nursing home.
We look in vain for a job.
We proclaim that Black lives matter.
We groan in agony that we can’t breathe.
The body of Christ has Covid-19, and how we respond to that truth will help write the next part of the story.
Many church leaders are doing amazing work right now, adapting worship services to online platforms, setting up food drop off points, and praying on conference calls.
There are parking lot churches, front porch prayer, garden vespers, Zoom choirs.
We are finding new ways to adapt the basic forms of church life—worship, payer, study, action—to the current landscape.
This accommodation reminds me of a moving passage from Richard Selzer, a surgeon who was also a writer.
He wrote of the time after doing surgery on a young woman to remove a tumor from her face, being with her and her husband in the recovery room.
“I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth has been severed. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. To remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve. She will be thus from now on. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. . . The young woman speaks, “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “It is kind of cute.” . . . Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.” 2
In Christ, God has kissed us, twisting the divine mouth to match ours out of love.
In the church, we keep rearranging our body to accommodate the setbacks and the trials, and we keep showing up as the church, the boat in which we are riding out the storm, the people of the catacombs, desert ammas and abbas, the hush arbor.
I am expecting that once things begin to be rearranged for what we keep calling the “new normal” there is going to be an explosion of creativity in the church, as we come together and ask what the body looks like now.
Having been forced to be the body without the familiar container of our church buildings, I expect many churches will take another look at the relationship between the church building and the mission of being the body.
There will be books and songs and liturgies and workshops that emerge, bringing us some sense of what the Spirit might have been up to during this time.
In order for that important work to commence, we will need to gather together, re-introduce ourselves, say how it has been, what we lost, what we gained, doing the slow and deep work of meaning-making.
We’ll read scriptures, holding them up against our experience to see the flow and the disruptions in our sense of the patterns of call and covenant, sowing and harvest, death and resurrection.
We’ll tell the story of how we individually made it through the worst of the pandemic, and how we want our lives to be better now, not just as they were before, but more attuned to what is most important.
We’ll tell our stories and listen to the stories of others, knitting back together the sinews and ligaments of our fractured body.
As I imagined people in these storytelling circles, I began to work on a course format that would encourage this practice.
I adapted a process that borrows a little from formal storytelling and a little from lectio divina to be used in the essential work of re-forming, knitting back together the body of Christ.
The course will be offered online through Columbia Seminary’s Lifelong Learning Center (you can learn more about the course and how to register here).
In this class, we will practice how to tell and interpret the stories of this time as we seek to put our communities back together in spirit and flesh.
If this sounds like work you want to practice and learn more about, please join us.
Telling one another our stories is one way to re-incarnate the body, to bring back together our varied gifts and experiences in the service of the love that has fit itself into a kiss of eternal grace.
Rev. Melissa Tidwell is a pastor and writer and instructor for the Sharing Our Stories course. She has experience in the ministry of publishing, where she was the editor of Alive Now magazine and contributor to the Companions in Christ small group resource. She has experience in pastoral ministry to the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Xenia, Ohio and as a supply pastor in Georgia and Tennessee.
 PCUSA Book of Common Worship, Friday Morning Prayer Liturgy
 Richard Selzer, Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery