As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
It might be predictable to choose St. Paul’s hymn of the one body of Christ to describe ecumenical realities and dreams. But during my life and work in ecumenism in Germany and beyond, this biblical reading has become more and more important to my understanding of working together between Christians and different churches.
The picture of the one body and its members, which are all related to and in need for each other, which honestly suffer and rejoice with the other, is for me one of the strongest dreams of ecumenism today. Between these members there is no envy, no harm, no malice, no spitefulness, no suspicion, but true compassion and – yet – love. This love, founded in Jesus Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, is unconditionally honest and true.
Receiving and passing on the love of Jesus Christ are conditions for living the ecumenical dream where there are prayers, discussions and daily life based on mutual understanding and love. For the ecumenical situation in Germany I can say (gladly!), that this dream has become a reality in ecumenical work, but mostly churches themselves are too self-centred with their own affairs. Although living in the same context often leads to common challenges, churches tend to find their solution alone, assuming not to be in need of others. With two main churches (the Protestant and the Roman Catholic) nearly equal in size, alongside a remarkable number of rather small churches, the ecumenical landscape in Germany is a unique one.
It is, therefore, sometimes all the more difficult to include all traditions and to communicate with one another on an equal footing. BUT we need each other. Only together do we form the body of Christ. My dream is that this picture of love, which the Apostle Paul draws in his letter to the Corinthians, will become more and more self-evident and so give visible signs of Christ’s love on our common pilgrimage.
Almighty God, too often as churches we revolve only around ourselves. We feel we are the only members of your Body and have become indifferent to the sin of division. Let us see more clearly that we need each other to be your Body. May we share joy and pain together, bound in and through the love of your Son. Guide us on our common pilgrimage to unity in the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dr Verena Hammes, General Secretary, Council of Churches in Germany