Sexagesima Last Sunday, Septuagesima, we followed the clergy and people of Rome as they trudged to outside the distant East gate of the City to the Basilica of S Lawrence; today we go with them to the South gate, to the Basilica of S Paul ... whose missionary tribulations he enumerated for us himself in today's Epistle reading from I Corinthians.
I find a particular phrase in that reading rather significant: "the care of all the Churches". S Paul wrote of the Churches in the plural - as he did in all - no, nearly all of his letters. But in a couple of late Epistles, Colossians and Ephesians, we find him talking of the Church in the singular. And, just as in his earlier years he had been concerned with the Unity of the Local Church, so now he shows an acute interest in the Unity of the Universal Church. The Universal Church is no mere federation of all the Local Churches; it is the one Body of Christ. Just as, earlier, he had written to the Corinthians rebuking them for talking as if they were "Paul's Group" or "Apollos'Group" or "Peter's Group" or "Christ's Group", now he is concerned for a wider unity in the Universal Church; a unity between Christians of Jewish and of Gentile background and culture.
The message of S Paul is as relevant today as it was when he told the Corinthian Christians "Christ is not divided". The Church is Christ's Body; Christ's Body is not divided; Christ's Body cannot be divided. It is easy for us to think of Christian Unity as a very good thing; as something, for example, which would mightily assist in Mission. But we need to take a leaf out of S Paul's book. Christian Unity is not just something which would be highly convenient; something which would be jolly, jolly, useful. Being united is not something which we need for lots and lots of very important reasons.
Things are exactly the other way round.
Christians are not entitled to be disunited.
Quinquagesima sermon follows on Sunday.