"Sax and Trumpet, Flute and Drums"
It started with lots of early morning practices. Before the school doors even opened. We were High School know-it-alls, and we weren’t sure yet, if this was worth it.
There we were, on the football field. Not with pads and cleats, but in our regular civvies, lining up in our respective marching lines. As an alto saxophone player, I was somewhere in the middle, as I recall. Not up front, like the trumpets and trombones. Not in the back, like the snare drums and big vertical bass drums. Near the clarinets and the flutes.
Even before the marching practice started, we had to spend, hour after hour memorizing our music. Some people were pretty good at that. I was ok. But, I realized, I didn’t have it all down perfectly – once we were playing and marching, at the same time! Which - as it turns out – was another level of difficulty.
Actually, we were pretty pathetic in the beginning. It was hard just to walk in straight lines. You could see the genius, though, in starting on the football field, with its regularly marked chalk lines. But still we were all wavy and disjointed, like breezes blowing through wind chimes. No one, really seemed to know the music by heart that first time. And so everyone was trying to play softer than the person next to them. And it made the song, On Wisconsin, sound like it was coming from a clueless grade school band. And it didn’t help that outside, on the football field, our sound was swallowed up and dissipated, compared to being in our enclosed band room. We had to learn how to project like never before, and get some wind behind our instruments, even as we became winded, just from marching up and down the field.
Yah, it was pretty awful, the first time!
But the carrot that kept us going, was that, we were the first class at our school to be invited to march in the Rose Bowl parade! Yes, that Rose Bowl, in Pasadena, CA. Thank goodness it was some 15 months away. But it was a pretty big deal, and somehow we managed to keep at it. Practicing on those early mornings, and on some weekends. Polishing our sound, and our formations. And we kept going to some smaller, regional parades, to polish our performance.
Eventually, we got better. We kept at it for over a year, which is a long time when you’re a teenager, and we finally lived up to the expectations of the Rose Bowl invitation. We became as good, or better than, any band we’d seen in all our competitions. Our music was finally crisp and on cue. Our marching steps were precise and in sync.
As much as anything, that’s what it was all about. Working together in harmony, as ‘one’. That meant, being aware, not only of the person next to you, but in front, and behind. We learned to all step-out together. To start and go forward as one. To stop as one. To play music as one.
By the time we went to the Rose Bowl, we were awesome together!
St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians, was concerned about how the church community he helped create, was playing and marching together. Or not! As it turned out in the church in Corinth, they weren’t playing all-that-well together. Some kind of a Trumpian character, or Russian Bot, had come in, after Paul had first formed the church. And this interloper, though they claimed to be a representative of Christ, had sowed chaos and division. The fledgling church was divided, one against the other, each claiming they knew better, or they should be in charge. Remember that in the next chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, is Paul’s famous poem about love. ‘Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful, arrogant or rude.’ The Corinthians needed a little more humility and love, and a lot less prideful rudeness.
And that’s how they could become ‘one’ again, said Paul.
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ,” Paul tells us. What if the foot would tell the hand, it wasn’t needed, or wasn’t as good?! Or what if the ear would internalize their oppression that the eye had perpetrated on them, and feeling like they didn’t belong, threaten to stop participating?! Or what if eye said it was most important, and didn’t need the body’s other parts, and would act as if the eye was the whole body?! And if the ear said the same, what then would happen to the sense of smell? If the hand said the same to the feet, how would the body walk and get around? “If all were a single member,” Paul says, “where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body”
So, just like a good band, that has many different instruments, trumpets and saxophones, flutes and drums, and each one is needed to complete the band to create beautiful music. So the body of Christ needs all the parts, all the members, to produce a well-orchestrated song.
This is not to say, of course, that a paraplegic isn’t a full body, or that any person that loses the use of one of its members, isn’t fully human. But Paul is speaking metaphorically, that we might comprehend what the Body of Christ is. It takes all kinds, to make the Body of Christ. Many different members. And one is not better than another. No one member can dictate the whole. In Paul’s analogy, we are all equal, we all need and depend on one another, and together we make up the whole Body of Christ.
In Colossians, in the New Testament, a letter written a generation after Corinthians, the metaphor of the Body of Christ is used somewhat differently. There, Christ is the head of the body – Christ is the brains of the operation. Which is different. Not necessarily wrong. But here in 1 Corinthians, Paul clearly says that we are the Body of Christ, and all the members of the body are necessary. No one can say they don’t need the others. All of us make up the Body, equally.
In fact, the only qualification Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 12 is, “the members of the body that seem to be weaker – are indispensable – and those members of the body that [are often regarded as] less honorable, we ‘clothe’ with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this.” God arranged the body like this, Paul says, “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 honored, all rejoice together with it.”
Just as putting a marching band together takes a lot of hard work, so maintaining a church congregation, and the whole Christian church, takes a lot of love and understanding.
We can point to some historic leaps forward, like in 2009 when the ELCA, Lutheran Church, reversed its policy of exclusion against LGBTQ members. It’s not like lesbian and gay and trans people weren’t already sitting in our pews, but cis-gendered straight people had mis-understood the welcome Christ taught us in Paul’s inclusive ‘Body of Christ’ metaphor. No one should be excluded because of who they love. “If one member suffers,” Paul taught, “all suffer together with them.” And there is still work to be done, as we learn how to depend on members, and body parts, we have been missing for too long.
And so, it’s still a lot of hard work to march together and make beautiful music, in the church. But to “strive for the greater gifts,” that’s what we are called to do. We don’t just walk by ourselves on this journey, but we are aware of those marching around us, before and behind; and those considered less honorable by the world, we clothe with greater honor and respect.
So, on this day of our Annual Meeting, let us deepen our walk together, that can only make for a more healthy and whole Body of Christ. “For if one member is honored,” as Paul said, “all rejoice together with them.”
Alleluia! And let the people say, Amen.