Like an immense but simple stained glass window, it had stood receiving the light of God. Its angled panes and prismatic jewels caught and translated that singular light into the rich hues and intricately patterned designs that fell on the busy lives within and around. It was beautiful – the craftsmanship of several artists who had collaborated in cutting and arranging and setting the pieces in their particular order so that the finished design was not mere aesthetic, but when experienced and attended to, had something to say: story to tell. Pieces – diverse shapes and sizes, yellows and greens and blues and browns – cohered as a single, prophetic window of grace.
But the environment was volatile. The framework though fitted and fastened together by artisans who knew well their work and labored over it lovingly, was vulnerable to the vibrations and agitations that stretched and shook it. And finally they took their toll. It fell, as if pushed by some giant, malevolent hands. It fell, this window of story and spirit and forgiveness and hope. Falling, as if in slow motion, it shattered on the hard and rocky surfaces around it beyond any recognition of its former beauty. The grace it had so colorfully, so poetically portrayed in the angles of its unity now lay silent in the scattered shards of its fragmentation.
There was, in the debris of its brokenness, something unspeakably sad about the Corinthian’s self-destruction. But more than sadness, there was something precariously ominous about the sharp and jagged edges that now lay ready to cut and deeply wound. They were fundamentally and dangerously divided, this community that had once embodied the presence of Christ. No longer seeing or believing or acting as one – no longer representing in their togetherness the reign of God that had drawn them together – they littered the ground like so much broken glass.
Such was the word that made its way to Paul, the first of those artisans who had labored to piece the Corinthians into a work of beauty. He had taught them, preached to them, baptized a few of them – as had others: Apollos, Cephas, maybe more. Through them the Corinthians had glimpsed something of the wonder of God and God’s will and way. Through them the Corinthians had come to experience and reflect in their own life together God’s sacrificial and passionate love for all God’s people. Rich and poor, simple and wise, laborer and merchant – God’s mercy and kindness and saving affection encircled them all. And for awhile that same light shone through them, in their meals together, in their prayers together, in their larger common life.
Who knows what began it teetering. Who knows who spoke the first loosening words or took the first dislodging steps and over what rattling issue. Perhaps it happened in a Bible Study where a particular interpretation struck someone as inappropriate. Perhaps it happened at a ministry meeting in which someone dissented from a decision or a plan. Perhaps it was a sermon that spit out verbal stones that bruised on impact. Perhaps it was someone’s behavior in the marketplace that was criticized or scorned the following Sunday. But whatever began the unsettling vibrations, their intensity increased until the very foundations were shifting along fault lines.
Paul wrote back to the Corinthian Church, “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” Christ’s church is about organic unity and interdependence of the diversity of gifts constituted by the creative and enlivening Spirit of God. It is about the Body of Christ giving form and expression by the varieties of organs and limbs working in concert.
May the light of God’s creative love, redeeming grace, and enlivening spirit continue to strike the patterns and panes of our life – that through us – through the mosaic intricacy of our pieces – the fullness of God may be revealed.
Grace, grace, God’s grace. Rick