Sermon – April 15, 2018 – Third Sunday of Easter

In our gospel story for today, the author of Luke gives their account of Jesus’ resurrection appearance. It is similar to the one we heard last week from John— Jesus comes amongst his disciples and offers them peace, he commissions his disciples to go out into the world and carry on his ministry, healing and forgiving. However, It’s the middle of this story that grabs my attention this week. There is an intentional emphasis on Jesus’ body. Seeing Christ, the disciples wonder if he is a ghost. Instead, Jesus insists “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bone as you see that I have.” Jesus shows his disciples his hands and his feet, and then, as if to reinforce his own fleshiness, Jesus eats with his disciples. In this post-resurrection account, Jesus’ body is what gives witness to the resurrection. Jesus’ body is what assures this reality of new life. But Jesus’ body is not what we might expect. It’s not gleaming or shiny, his rising from the dead has not perfected his form. He still bears the scars of his death and he still hungers for sustenance. Jesus shows up to his disciples in flesh and bone’s truest form—ordinary, hurting perhaps— and it is through his flesh and bones that the disciples are reminded of the power of God.

Bodies matter to God. Bodies matter to Jesus. Our scriptures indicate again and again an embodied divinity and an enfleshed spirituality. At the beginning of time, God took dirt into God’s hand and intimately formed the bodies of humanity. If God didn’t care about human bodies, why did God want one? After all the Christmas story reminds us of how God came to earth in the form of a fragile human baby body. Throughout Jesus’ ministry on earth, he touched bodies that were thought to be untouchable, healed bodies, fed bodies. In his last night on earth, Jesus’ insisted that he would give his entire body for you. Jesus’ own body felt suffering, pain, betrayal and even death. His rose from death not as some amorphous blob but as flesh and bone— a body. Bodies matter to God and bodies matter to Jesus.

Somewhere along the progression of Christianity, however, we lost touch of this embodied spirituality. We can first start to notice the separation of body and mind in Paul’s writing. Influenced by Greco-Roman philosophy, Paul writes that flesh is something to be punished or controlled, something that is separate from the mind and heart. Reading Paul and being influenced by neo-platonism, Augustine took this theory even further—writing how his body actually prevented him from knowing God. Then, of course, there’s Luther who read Augustine and incorporated much of his theology into his own writing… and you can see how how through time a gigantic rift was built between one’s body and relationship with the divine. We call this dualism; it’s the idea that one’s body and soul are separate from each other and unfortunately it is foundational in western thought. Today dualism in Christianity looks something like this: It’s found in the idea that spirituality is an exercise in the mind or soul, that becoming Christian is a conscious choice that we accept in our minds; it’s the idea that our bodies are something to be overcome in order to experience the joys of heaven; that our bodies are inherently sinful or bad, just temporary prisons that we abandon when we die; that bodies are something that our mind controls and we will ourselves to change.

These thoughts only complicate our relationships to our bodies. This separation of self and body is one of the main reason why the diet industry is one of the top grossing industries in our world, with Americans alone spending over $60 billion dollars a year. If you see your body as something separate from yourself, not integral to who you are, not lovable as it is, then you tend to not treat it very well. All of this insists that our bodies do not matter and are unimportant to God and in our lives as followers of Jesus. This could not be less true.

Each and every one of us was beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God, just as we are. All of our diversity; our different colors or abilities, our different shapes and sizes, our quirks, even our scars, have been claimed and named for good by God. Our bodies are not something to control or deny. We need our bodies in our lives as Christians and each of our bodies have something to offer to the world. Following Jesus is not simply an exercise of our mind or spirit but requires all of us, bodies included. Through our bodies we feel a twinge in our gut or an ache in our bones—calling us to be aware of something outside of our consciousness. We use the senses that we are able to engage the world around us, a world that Jesus engaged and loved. We see the needs of our neighbors, listen to each others stories, smell the green grass or other things that remind us of the goodness of God’s creation. We embrace one another in joy or pain, we shake hands as we share peace with those around us, or we taste family recipes that remind us of our sacred roots. All of these bodily senses have the ability to connected us to God and each other in deeper ways.

It is no coincidence that our two sacraments hold special ties to our bodies. By definition, a sacrament is something holds both the command of God and the promise of grace. Each of our two sacraments combine the Word of God with something tangible, something that we experience with our body, to encounter the divine. In Holy Communion, we have access to grace by nourishing our bodies with the bread and wine, Jesus’ body made tangible for us. In Baptism, we have access to grace through the washing of our bodies. Both of these sacraments engage our full selves, not just our minds or spirits, and in participating in them, we are brought closer to God.

Beloved children of God, bodies and all, you were created to be in relationship with the divine. Your body was fearfully and wonderfully made, shaped and crafted by God just the way it is. God will use your body to serve those around you in love, just as Jesus did. Through baptism and holy communion God is brought close to our bodies; Through eating and bathing (seeming ordinary actions) God does something extraordinary and reminds us of Jesus’ unrelenting love and sacrifice. Our bodies matter to God and they matter in our lives as Christians. May we remember the flesh and bone of Jesus, his resurrected body still marked by scars, as we consider the diversity of own beautiful selves. May we not hate our bodies, nor try to control them in destructive ways, but may we be gentle with ourselves, holistically caring for ourselves just as we seek to care for others. And may we remember that our bodies are part of who we are, able to do miraculous things, and able bring us closer to God.