Let’s start here: bodies do matter.

by susan on April 12, 2018

This is the message that was shared on Sunday, April 8th during our gathering. It is part of our “Embody: practicing resurrection through our bodies” series & is based on John 20:19-31.

On my 40th birthday, I had the honor of performing my beloved grandmother’s funeral. It was one of the most difficult, yet richest experiences of my life.

When I arrived at the funeral home with the rest of my family to view her body the night before the funeral, I was not the minister though. I was her grieving granddaughter.

And, because I had only experienced a handful of people I knew well die, seeing her body was a very strange & overwhelming experience.

See, I had been told all my life
that bodies are just the shell of a person,
that they are temporary housing,
that they are not really the person inside.

And while her lifeless body certainly did resemble the shell of who she was, I knew her through her particular body.

In fact, almost all of my memories of her had to do with how she used her hands to express love  – whether cooking or gardening or sewing or holding my hand – I knew her & was loved by her through her body.

There is no way to separate who we are from our particular bodies.
Our stories are shaped by them.

Our bodies declare our gender at birth. They categorize us short or tall, small or big. They can influence our personalities, the way people look at us & the way we see the world. Weight loss or gain, illness, disability & pain are all experienced in our bodies & can all change the direction of our lives. We even carry trauma & stress & experience connection & attraction & intimacy through our bodies.

Our stories are shaped by our bodies.

Has this been true for you? If so, how? How has your story been shaped by your particular body?

Bodies matter & they seem to matter to God. Bodies certainly mattered in today’s scripture reading from the gospel of John.

Not only did God come to us in a human body, but after being executed on a cross, after dying, Jesus is brought back to life in a body. He first appears to Mary Magdalene at the tomb & he tells her to go share the news of his resurrection with the other disciples. Apparently, unlike Mary who stuck around to see what had happened to her Lord’s body, they have found a safe place to hide. They are locked away – all together, all except Thomas.

Thomas is apparently dealing with this turn of events his own way. Maybe he’s trying to move on or forget that he ever believed this bunch of craziness. Either way, he is not there when Jesus mysteriously enters a locked room & appears to his friends. More on this later.

The writer of John tells us the disciples have locked the doors for fear of the Jews. They are afraid that the same determined religious leaders who put Jesus to death will try to do the same to his affiliates. They are afraid & vulnerable.

And in the midst of their fear & vulnerability, notice what Jesus does.
He not only breaks through the barrier they have created;
he speaks words of peace, not just once but twice;
he shows them his wounds & then
he breathes the gift of the spirit into them.

I’m not sure an encounter can get much more personal than this.

The Spirit, we are told earlier in John, will come to Jesus’ followers as a comforter and an advocate & now we learn that the Spirit, the very breath of God, will dwell in them.

In their bodies.

This is no small thing. Jesus, God in the flesh who has just been resurrected from the dead – is literally filling his followers’ bodies with the breath, with the spirit of resurrection.

The spirit of resurrection is now within them
& it is creative – it will renew them,
& it is relational – it will connect them to God & one another,
& it is missional – it will empower them to forgive, to bless, to be sent out to love & to serve their neighbors.

Jesus may be about to leave them & go be with the Father,
but he will still be present with them in a way that is
so primal, so personal, so experiential & so vital to their existence.

This is not the first time that God has breathed life into human beings. It happened in the creation story (see Gen. 2:7). Through this new creation encounter, we are reminded that God is as close as the air that we breathe. With every breath we take, new life is being breathed into us…whether we are mindful of it or not.

[During this part of the gathering, we practiced some mindful breathing. This kind of mindful breathing can be a form of prayer for us, a humble reminder of God’s presence wherever we find ourselves.]

This is how God comes to us – through the dark cavities, the private places, the locked doors & into the most vulnerable parts of us (our bodies) & our lives to breathe life in us & through us.

Bodies matter. They connect us to God & through them we receive & we share life.

There is a second scene to this scripture reading though. As I mentioned already, Thomas was absent during Jesus’ post-resurrection break-in.

When his friends find him to tell him about their bodily encounter with Jesus, he has trouble believing it. No doubt. He had watched Jesus die. He had witnessed his friend’s lifeless body taken from the cross where he had been crucified.

Who wouldn’t struggle to believe it, especially without seeing it for ourselves?

To doubt is to be human. In fact, doubt is an essential part of faith.

If we are not doubting, we are not listening to the story. This is a counter-cultural, counterintuitive story. People are supposed to stay dead.

So what does Jesus do in the doubt?
Does he show up & scold Thomas?
Does he tell him to “man up”?
Does he belittle or blow off or berate him for his doubt?

No. None of that. In fact, he shows up (just like he did in the midst of the other disciples’ fear & vulnerability) in a body & he invites Thomas to touch his wounds (as beautifully captured in this painting below: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio, 1308-1311.)

His body becomes evidence.
Jesus offers his body as proof of his resurrection.
The very wounds that had been cause for doubt now become reason to believe.

As a minister, I have seen a lot of wounds. The first time someone lifted up their shirt to show me a scar, I was taken back. I thought that when I left my career as an occupational therapist, I was done with all of that. But, it kept happening. It keeps happening.

I’m finding that people want their wounds to be witnessed. They need their scars to be seen. And very often we bear these scars in our bodies. Now, I am not advocating that we all start coming to church naked & showing off our scars. In fact, please, please do not make that the take away for today.

But what I am asking us to do is to make more space to practice a faith in which bodies matter. I’m asking for us to talk about our scars & bodily struggles, to talk about the shame & disappointment, to consider the way we care for our bodies & the way we see & mistreat one another’s bodies. To talk about sexuality. To begin connecting our bodies to our faith & to the way we talk about & practice resurrection.

We are not just spirits. We live in bodies.
We must learn to embody the way of Jesus: the flesh & blood, here-is-my-body way of Jesus.

How will we begin to do this? How will you be more aware of the ways your story is & has been shaped by your body? How will you begin being more mindful of the struggle, the tension, the beauty & the presence of God through your body?

God comes to us through our bodies & God sends us out to BE Christ’s body. In the words attributed to Teresa of Ávila:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

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