Metonymy and Synecdoche in the Sanctuary

"Who hath bound the waters in a garment?" (Proverbs 30:4)

"Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of Thy waterspouts: all Thy waves and billows are gone over me." (Psalm 42:7)

"Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern my infirmities." (2 Corinthians 11:28-30)

The last verse is Paul speaking. He founded the first Christian churches over whose members he still maintained a spiritual tether--an umbilical--regardless of distance. He talks about feeling the pain of those who are hurt, about empathizing and literally representing those churches as unto Christ. This being said, you can imagine what Jesus feels everyday. As He gave His life for everyone, He feels everyone.

"Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto a measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:" (Ephesians 4:13)

Synecdoche is a grammatical term. From a Greek phrase essentially meaning "to accept or receive an understanding of", it's a rhetorical device where a part of something is used as that which represents the something as a whole. While it's a bit of a stretch to say that we (you, I, etc.) are literally a synecdoche (pronounced sin-neck-ducky--quickly), the concept remains. You represent the Body of Christ and as such, represent Jesus. From you (or me), to everyone, to Jesus. The Body of Christ is an organic, grassroots, hard-to-pin down entity comprised of billions of believers the world over.

"So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." (Romans 12:5)

Counting heads

"Counting heads" is an example of synecdoche in action. What it really means is "counting people", just said in a different and simpler way. Thing is, Jesus is interested in the heart condition of every single one of us (maybe it should read counting hearts?). And if we leave it up to the ones in charge of the church. The Pastor and elders, etc., to maintain the cohesion of the mere members of our church building, without realizing that everyone is literally a piece of God, we do everyone else a disservice. Including ourselves. "But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered." (Luke 12:7) Says Jesus. I suppose then, that we can take care of our brothers and sisters in Christ--God can worry about the number of hairs on our head.

Counting sheep

"For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." (1 Corinthians 11:29-30)

Just because our eyes are open in the sanctuary on Sunday morning, doesn't mean we see God. Jesus asks Peter: "What, could ye not watch with me one hour?" (Matthew 26:40) While we may not be experiencing the heaviness and temptation to quit that Peter and James and John were feeling in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to Jesus' arrest, the temptation to close our eyes to God and subsequently everything going on around us is great. It takes something outside of ourselves to make us want to stay up and take notes. To be more than a sheep for its own sake. While Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and He'll "leave the ninety and nine" (Matthew 18:12) to bring back one lost lamb, that defnition is only part of who we are as a member of the flock. Of the Body.

"For He is our God; and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. To day if ye will hear His voice." (Psalm 95:7) We are His sheep. And we are so much more:

"Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in Thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them! How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with Thee." (Psalm 139:16-18)

Living for the part

Metonymy is something a little broader. A little harder to define, but no less fun to use. Synecdoche (the part for the whole) is a type of metonymy. But a metonym is where something that isn't necessarily a part of the thing in question, but related to it, is used to refer to the thing. The "Body of Christ". Or, the "Body"--the "Church" is an example of metonymy in action.

Jesus says "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12), then He says "Ye are the light of the world." (Matthew 5:14). And then in Revelation (1:20, 2:5), Jesus refers to "candlesticks" as being "churches". I've never heard anyone refer to a church building as a "candlestick", but I suppose it could do in a pinch. And Revelation is replete with the metonymic. A church is not a "candlestick" but we are "the light of the world". Spiritually and literally.

It's easy to confuse "metonymy" with "metaphor". But in Christianity, we're dealing with things of mystery and invisibility. Things of faith that have to be believed before being seen, if that makes sense. And while a candlestick is certainly a metaphor for the churches, the "light" is real. And this is why metonymy is a more fitting and appropriate way to look at those dim and deep symbolic representations in God's Word. Revelation included. Because metonymy uses terms that are closely related to the thing in question. Metaphor doesn't have to. As such, John saw seven candlesticks in his vision on Patmos on "the Lord's day" (Revelation 1:10).

Jesus cares for us so much. He wants each and every one of us to be burning as brightly and hotly for Him as we can. Where we are physically, emotionally and geographically plays in to all of it. You represent Jesus as much as any and every believer. We also represent one another before God. Know this.

"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep." (1 Thessalonians 4:14-15)