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In thanksgiving… for One Body (Romans 12)

23rd November 2020

In thanksgiving… for One Body (Romans 12)

The Rev. Canon Dr. Jim Salladin

Thanksgiving, for the church, is a matter of life and death; except that the order is reversed: death precedes life, and life flows from death. 

Take the logic of Romans 12: “I appeal to you therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” The Apostle has taken eleven long and dense chapters to expound the grandeur of God’s mercies, and it is only then, with these mercies in view, that he turns to the life of the church. There is good reason for that: the church makes no sense without God’s mercies. 

Remember the story Paul tells in Romans. He begins with a grim picture that sounds all too familiar. Although we were created by God and for God’s glory, we did not give thanks to him for any of those gifts. Instead, our hearts brimming with ingratitude, we exchanged God’s glory for things he made (1:25). Idolatry, and all the sin that flows from it and all the wrath it deserves, is always seasoned with ingratitude. And that ingratitude toward God leads to selfishness toward each other. You cannot reject God without ending up devouring everyone else (1:29-31).

But then, right when we are dead to God and each other, that is when God’s mercies irrupt on the scene.  God gives his own Son as a propitiation for our sins (3:25), showing him to be both just and justifier of the ungodly (3:26; 4:5). This death is the fountain of mercy, and it reverses our idolatry. Christ’s Cross cancels the penalty for sin, but it also does more. When the mercy of the Cross lands upon our souls, it calls forth a desire to die. 

When we see Christ giving all for us, ungrateful sinners though we are, it calls forth a desire to give all that we are for Christ, to be living sacrifices. True thanksgiving begins with a desire to die to self for Christ’s glory. And this is the critical moment when death generates life, and the life it generates is the life of the church: the one body. If sinful ingratitude made us devour each other, then holy gratitude makes us delight to serve each other (12:3-8). What else can we do when our Lord gave himself for us? What higher honor can we seek than to mimic Christ’s death by laying down our lives for each other? We cannot love Christ without loving those whom he loves, and therefore we cannot give thanks to him without aspiring to love his people. And as if God’s kindness was not already beyond measure, he chooses to give us each gifts fit to serve our sisters and brothers in Christ (12:6).

And so the body grows: each part grateful to Christ for the Cross and each part expressing that gratitude by serving the rest. The one body of Christ flourishes in life because each member joyfully dies to self. And each member joyfully dies to self in view of the mercies of the Cross. How strange is the church of Christ: a body that thrives when each part lays down its life!? It only make sense because of the Cross. For the Cross is the death-that-brings life: life to the sinner, life-through-death for the believer, and the life of grateful service to the body of Christ.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Jim Salladin (PhD, University of St. Andrews) 
Rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church in New York City, New York and is the Canon of Church Planting and Gospel Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word, a diocese in the Anglican Church in North America.


A Prayer for the Unity of all Christian People:

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace to take to heart the grave dangers we are in through our many divisions. Deliver your Church from all enmity and prejudice, and everything that hinders us from godly union. As there is one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so make us all to be of one heart and of one mind, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and love, that with one voice we may give you praise; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God in everlasting glory. Amen.

BCP 2019 p. 646

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