Our annual Fellowship Day was focused around a series of presentations from Emma and Tim Palmer on the theme of ‘Building the Body’. Spiritual lessons around ‘the body’ are common. It’s a well-known and oft-used theme from the New Testament, with plenty of verses exhorting greater unity and appreciation of all the parts (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12). This study, however, took a different approach.
Using a mixture of biology lesson, spiritual application and practical demonstration, Tim and Emma looked at the skeleton and bones, the skin and the blood and drew out metaphors and spiritual lessons for us. Meanwhile the children were following a parallel path – looking at ‘The Senses’ and how we can use them to appreciate God and help each other.
We covered a lot of ground over the course of the day so what I share with you here is just personal highlights. And these are my interpretation of a small part of what Tim and Emma said that caught my imagination - so any errors are entirely mine!
We learnt some fascinating facts about bones and skeletons (I didn’t know that if you cut a bone it will bleed or what all those osteoblasts and osteoclasts were up to) but the thing that really struck me was that our bones change and adapt to stresses but remain fundamentally the same. For example, a body builder has the same skeletal structure as any of us, but some of their bones will be thicker or stronger as a result of constantly training that part of the body – it’s not just the muscles that build up.
In the same way, the fundamental structure of our faith (the skeleton) remains the same but we may need to strengthen a particular bone in response to the pressures we face – as an individual or a church or a wider church community.
Following on from the thoughts about the basic structure of the skeleton were ideas about how the skeleton and the skin work together. Humans do not have exoskeletons like crayfish where the skeleton is on the outside; our skeleton is an endoskeleton so it’s on the inside, under our skin. The lesson here is that we may have principles of faith and fellowship that tie us together as a community but there’s no need to wear them on the outside like a crayfish so that they act as a hard, impenetrable shell. God has covered our skeletons with soft outer tissue (the skin) so our church can be more accessible and approachable.
Blood (which is made in the bone marrow) serves three major purposes in our body: it nourishes, cleanses and provides defence against disease. The Bible talks about blood a lot – throughout the Old and New Testaments. It’s very clear that God equates blood with life. In the Old Testament, there are strict injunctions against eating blood (Genesis 9 v 4, Leviticus 17 v 14) – in fact, it was to be poured out to God (Leviticus 17 v 11) in sacrifice.
Then Jesus came along and told people they had to eat his flesh and drink my blood (John 6 v 53-56) in order to have eternal life. This would have been shocking and disgusting to all those who heard him. He was talking figuratively of course as he gave his body and poured out his blood in sacrifice for us - something we remember each week symbolically in bread and wine at our most important church service (Matthew 26 v 26-28, 1 Corinthians 11 v 23-26). His sacrifice paradoxically gave us life.
We also talked about how vaccinations work. Someone who has had a disease and overcome it is able to provide antibodies against that disease in their blood. If these are introduced to someone else, if they are struck by the same disease then they already have the wherewithal to fight it. Christ has defeated the disease of sin that leads to death and we can benefit from his antibodies. His blood gives us life – nourishes us, cleanses our toxins and immunises us against sin.
If all of this seems a bit heavy, remember that there was a plentiful supply of tea, coffee and biscuits throughout. The presentations included practical demonstrations and group discussions and were interspersed with some singing, accompanied by a small band. We enjoyed fish and chips for lunch and had a lovely walk around Kingsclere in the afternoon – the rain mostly holding off. And there was a huge selection of delicious homemade cakes to enjoy before the final session.
Huge thanks to Tim and Emma Palmer, Rodger and Amanda Yuile (who led the children’s sessions), the team of people who organised the day and all those who contributed in any way. Plenty of food for thought!