I need you, you need me — we’re all a part of God’s body.
Stand with me; agree with me — we’re all a part of God’s body.
It is His will that every need be supplied.
You are important to me; I need you to survive.
I pray for you; you pray for me.
I love you — I need you to survive.
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.
I love you. I need you to survive.
In a nation divided, in a church fragmented, these words, recorded by Hezekiah Walker, calling us to acknowledge our need for one another, seemed prophetic as they played over the sound system when I entered church.
In this week in which the presidential inauguration and the Week of Christian Unity coincide, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Catholics, Moravians, Church of the Brethren, the Untied Church of Christ, Anglicans, Orthodox, Pentecostals, Church of God, non-denominational churches — we all need one another.
This lesson is perhaps one of the hardest for Baptists to learn, for we are one of the most fragmented of traditions. It’s much easier to go our separate ways over issues over which we differ than it is to cling to one another for dear life. We are in the same baptismal boat riding the same storm tossed sea headed toward the same destination.
There are a few places in my life where I’ve experienced unity in diversity. Surviving on our family farm required helping one another — sharing labor and tools with neighboring families, as well as the fruits of our labor. In the maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, I learned of families whose loved were at sea and who were therefore depending on the assistance and generosity of their neighbors during that time.
My clearest lesson in Christian unity came from The Rev. Bruno Piccolo, a Catholic priest of the PIME missionaries serving in community in Detroit. He hosted my student group one bitterly cold spring break. He welcomed us to his city, exchanged stories with us, shared table with us, and invited us to worship at the altar, which for Catholics is both a sacrificial altar and a table for a communal meal. A small number of us joined him at worship fully aware that we would not be included when communion was served. As we stood back and watched the others receive, Father Bruno, stood in solidarity with us, denying himself the sacrament held so central in his tradition. He knew our pain of being excluded “In suffering — there is unity,” he said to us as we departed.
We speak of the church as the body of Christ. Could it have been the church Jesus was speaking of when he said, “This is my body which is broken for you.” (I Cor. 11:24)? The One who nurtures all the branches of the church is the one who called himself the “True Vine.” We may worship in different ways and sing hymns that may sound foreign to one another. We may read our prayers or offer them all spontaneously. All of these things depend upon the tradition from which we come. But what is true of us all is that we are nurtured and fed by the one true vine — Jesus the Christ.
There is no reason why everyone should be Christian in the same way. There is every reason to leave room for differences. If we would give as much of ourselves to the high calling and holy hope that unites us as we do to the arguments that divide the church, the church — our community—our world would look a lot more like the kin-dom of God.
We must learn to live together as sisters and brothers, or we will perish together as fools.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.