WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

The Body of Love

By Elizabeth Bukey Saunter

In a hospital corridor, a nurse in scrubs carries a cooler designated to hold donated organs.

"Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? ...If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
—1 Corinthians 12:14-17 and 26

We’re part of an interdependent web of existence; sometimes that interdependence is physical. In 2015, my dad almost died of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (medical for “your lungs are turning into scar tissue and we don’t know why”). In August, he told me what hymns he wanted at his funeral. We watched him slip away, getting weaker and weaker. But one night in December, a stranger died—and my family and several others on organ waiting lists got a call. The day after the Winter Solstice, my dad received a life-saving transplant.

I remember the cycles of hope and fear: waiting for the organs to arrive from out of town; sharing an ecstatic family hug when the surgery was successful. It was disruptive and strange to spend Christmas in the hospital, living on endless cups of coffee and constant hand-washing; even more so to know that someone had died to bring this hope, and to wonder how the donor’s family mourned at the same time we rejoiced. This gift of new life wasn’t just warm and fuzzy. It came with disruption and responsibility. Something was forever changed in our family.

Something also changed in how I understand human connection. One day, about a year and a half later, I spotted a man wearing “Donate Life” gear—on a walk with his mother—and I stopped them: “Hey, this is weird, but I saw your hat and just wanted to see what your connection is. My dad is a transplant recipient.” The man told me his brother had died young, and they they chose organ donation. They kept getting notifications, his mother said: his eyes were in Tennessee. His lungs were over here. He had been a small person so his heart went to a child. They think sometimes about how those living pieces are still living all over the country. I told them I would probably never meet or know my dad’s donor family, and asked if I could thank them. And I did.

Christian teachings use the image of one body to describe the beloved community. This is part of what this means to me now: organs and tissue connecting strangers across time and space. We need one another to survive, not just abstractly but in our flesh, in our blood, in the choices we make to give life even amidst death.

What would change if we—if I—lived with this knowledge? If my cousin’s heart kept your child alive? If my 0- blood saved the life of the religiously conservative man in your neighborhood? If your uncle’s lungs breathed air into my dad’s body the day he met his granddaughter? How would I act if I really knew that we are not isolated individuals, but parts of each other’s being? What grace—messy, vulnerable, and disturbing—might come to dwell among us?

Oh God whose name is Love: hold us close in this season of waiting. Rejoice with us in every instant of hope breaking in to our world. Open our hearts to the messy reality of our interdependence. Guide us into living vulnerably and bravely in that truth. Teach us to love each other as part of one body, so that each and every one of us may survive and thrive.