April 15 2018
On Friday I had to go to hospital for a fairly common procedure that people my age have to go through, to make sure nothing sinister was present in my colon. (Enough said.) I spent two hours in the waiting area with many other patients, all of us clad in hospital gowns and socks, sitting in varying degrees of discomfort and self-consciousness, nervously waiting to be called into the surgical area. From time to time one of us would beat a hasty retreat to the washroom.
During that long, nervous wait, I was acutely aware of the bodiliness of the human experience, and how it unites us: how we’re all just skin and flesh, bones and organs, under our various guises. I realized that if the Archbishop himself came into that waiting room, he too would have to sit there in a hospital gown and socks with his bare legs sticking out. It was a strangely warming thought. We’re all the same underneath.
And our bodies have a wisdom and knowledge that we’re sometimes slow to recognize. Priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor says this:
Our bodies are prophets. They know when things are out of whack and they say so, although most of us welcome their news about as warmly as the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jeremiah’s.*
In all the Easter stories, it’s the wisdom of the body that allows the truth of the resurrection to sink in: Mary Magdalene hugs Jesus and knows it’s him; Thomas touches his wounds; the disciples in today’s gospel see him eat a piece of fish to prove he’s not a ghost. It’s all tangible, bodily stuff. We live a lot of the time in our heads and minds, but it’s our bodies that often know best. And it’s through our body’s senses of sound, touch, taste that we often come to know what’s real and true.
Our faith is a very embodied one. Christmas is about the incarnation – God becoming flesh and blood, embodied, the human being Jesus. Easter is about this Jesus being raised to life in body not just in spirit. Bodies are holy – all bodies. We’re not spirits trapped in a mortal body prison until we can slough it off and get to a spiritual place called heaven: we’re body and spirit inseparably joined, and heaven starts here on earth as we live in God’s way.
That’s why we as Christians care so much about very earthly, physical things like working to make sure all people have enough food to eat, shelter to live in, healthcare, security. We’re not just about people’s spiritual wellbeing. Or rather, spiritual wellbeing is inseparable from physical wellbeing.
The gospels contain many stories about Jesus caring for people’s physical wellbeing by his healings – of body and mind. And one of the first things the disciples do after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit is a healing: a lame man is healed in the name of Jesus. And many other healings follow.
Barbara Brown Taylor goes on to say that as she came to realize the deep holiness and wisdom of the body, she also came to see how it’s our bodiliness that unites us:
While we might not have one other thing in common, we all [wear] skin. We all [have] breath and beating hearts. Most of us [have] wept, although not for the same reasons. Few of our bodies [work] the way we [want] them to. The vast majority of us [are] afraid of dying. . . . My body is what connects me to all of these other people. Wearing my skin is not a solitary practice but one that brings me into communion with all these other embodied souls. It is what we most have in common with one another.*
And she goes on to say:
In Christian teaching followers of Jesus are called to honor the bodies of our neighbors as we honor our own. In [Jesus’] teaching by example, this includes leper bodies, possessed bodies, widow and orphan bodies, as well as foreign bodies and hostile bodies—none of which he shied away from.*
Have you ever really pondered the holiness of your body, despite its weaknesses and wounds? I’ve been so frustrated by mine this winter and spring, with the two broken wrists and a bout of the flu, that I was beginning to see it as a failure that was letting me down, not a remarkable gift from God. I was trying to push it, instead of listening to it. Taylor Brown says that “our bodies remain God’s best way of getting to us. “ They have wisdom for us. They can help us see our common humanity. They can literally enable us to reach out and touch and help each other. And they can lead us to a deeper knowledge of this God who comes to us in physical human form, and in the beauty and mystery of this earthy, tangible world.
The Easter stories are almost comical in the way they describe Jesus trying to get the disciples to believe he is risen and with them: “Here, touch the nail marks in my hands. Give me some fish to eat. Take a piece of this bread that I’m breaking for you.” He’s so very down to earth. And I think we’re meant to be too – not so other worldly that we’re no earthly use, but living out our faith in very practical, down to earth ways.
It’s no coincidence that we as Christians are collectively called “the Body of Christ” – not “the Spiritual Society of Christ”, or some ethereal name like that, but the Body of Christ. And each time you receive the eucharist, you hear the words, “The body of Christ.”
So remember the holiness of your body.
Remember its wisdom.
And remember that you are part of the Body of Christ. Amen.
* Barbara Brown Taylor, “An Altar in the World.”