How ca we sense God’s love now that Jesus has ascended to the Father? One New Testament answer centers around “the body of Christ,” a mysterious phrase used more than thirty times. Paul, especially, settled on that phrase as a summary image of the church. When Jesus left, he turned over his mission to flawed and bumbling men and women. He assumed the role of heat of the church, leaving the tasks of arms, legs, ears, eyes, and voice to the erratic disciples–and to you and me.
A careful reading of the four gospels shows that this new arrangement was what Jesus had in mind all along. He knew his time on earth was short, and he proclaimed a mission that went beyond even his death and resurrection. “I will build my church,” he declared, “and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”
Jesus’ decision to operate as the invisible head of a large body with many members affects our view of suffering. It means that he often relies on us to help one another cope. The phrase “the body of Christ”, expresses well what we are called to do: to represent in flesh what Christ is like, especially to those in need.
The apostle Paul must have had something like that process in mind when he wrote these words: “[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the suffering of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows” (2 Corinthians 1:4-5). And all through his ministry Paul put that principle into practice, taking up collections for famine victims, dispatching assistants to go to troubled areas, acknowledging believers’ gifts as gifts from God himself.