“Our Bodies” Colchester Federated Church, April 15, 2018, (Luke 24:36b-48) Third Sunday of Easter 

On this Third Sunday of Easter we see another of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances. This time in the Gospel according to Luke.  Jesus appears to his followers saying, “Peace be with you” and encourages them to look at his hands and feet.  “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  We’re told that the disciples react with joy in their disbelief and still wonder about the reality of it all.  To seal the deal, Jesus asks them if they have anything to eat.  And they give Jesus a piece of broiled fish and he eats that fish right in front of them.[1]

Now we can argue about many topics in Christianity with resurrection being one.  Specifically, some Christians believe in the bodily resurrection and some in the spiritual resurrection of Jesus.  Arguments can be made on both sides.  This Gospel text today is almost like the Team Captain of Team Bodily Resurrection!  Jesus says to look at his hands and feet, touch me and see, emphasizes that he has flesh and bones, and eats fish.  It’s meant to emphatically state the reality of the bodily resurrection.  We can believe either way, though the beauty of a passage like this that does emphasize Jesus’ bodily resurrection can affirm two realities that we’ll explore.  Number one: our bodies are good.  And number two: our Christian faith is embodied.

Our bodies are good

Think for a moment about how we speak about bodies in our American culture.  Our bodies and other peoples’ bodies.  We hear or say: “My body isn’t what it used to be.”  “My body is betraying me.”  “I can’t believe that she hasn’t lost that baby weight yet.”  “His muscles are huge, he’s probably on steroids.”  “Can you believe how white she is, she needs to get a tan.”  “Can you believe how dark he is, he needs to stay out of the sun.”  We could go on and on (while trying to keep these comments PG), let alone make comments that would make all of us uncomfortable.  We know exactly how commentary on peoples’ bodies plays out in our culture.  Many comments are negative and critical.  And not just what people say about others’ bodies, but what we say or think about our own bodies.

We often aren’t helping matters in the Church.  One of my theological buddies is Episcopal Priest/Professor/Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor who wrote a wonderful book called An Altar in the World—focusing on seeing the sacred in our everyday lives.  It’s a book about spiritual practices: the practice of paying attention, getting lost, encountering others, living with purpose, and so on.  She covers the practice of wearing skin (we’ll hear several quotes from that chapter today because her words are just incredible.)  So here’s what Barbara Brown Taylor contemplates about the spiritual practice of wearing skin: “I do not recall ever being told that my flesh is good in church, or that God takes pleasure in it.  Yet this is the central claim of the incarnation—that God trusted flesh and blood to bring divine love to earth.”[2]

We proclaim in Christianity that Jesus was fully human and fully divine.  Today we see Jesus saying after resurrection: “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”[3]  God trusted a human body to bring divine love to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth who was a real human being.  Human bodies can’t be all bad, right?  If you get nothing else out of this sermon than that your body is good that’s fine by me.  Because for too long the Church hasn’t said that.

Through studying and spiritual practices, Barbara Brown Taylor came to view her body through loving eyes.  About this process she writes: “The first thing I understood was that it was not possible to trust that God loved all of me, including my body, without also trusting that God loved all bodies everywhere.  God loved the bodies of hungry children and indentured women along with the bodies of sleek athletes and cigar-smoking tycoons.  While we might not have had one thing in common, we all wore skin.  We all had breath and beating hearts . . . Few of our bodies worked the way we wanted them to.”[4]

This beautiful passage about self-discovery of the belovedness of our bodies helps us live out our faiths.  It ends up that God loves all bodies everywhere.  Here at CFC we proclaim that all people are welcome, and we mean it.  The Welcoming, Open and Affirming Statement that the church adopted years ago states: “We invite all who seek to follow Jesus into the full life of our church, ministry, leadership, worship, sacraments, rites, and fellowship: all persons of every gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; as well as all ages, races, nationalities, mental and physical ability, family structure, and social and economic status.”  We as a church welcome people into this Body of Christ who are not always welcome in other churches.  That’s something to own and for which we can be proud.  CFC’s Statement of Welcome is a beautiful example of God loving all bodies everywhere.  Amen?

Let’s not forget that when human beings are created way back in the book of Genesis the writer claims that God created humanity in God’s image.  On that sixth day of creation, after human beings came into being—God saw everything that God had made “and indeed, it was very good.”[5]  Up until then, the writer declares that aspects of creation are good.  But humans who have bodies are very good.  We can take this creation story as a metaphor just as we can believe in a spiritual Resurrection.  But we can’t throw out the goodness of bodies found in these central stories of our faith—the goodness of human bodies that we do affirm here in this Body of Christ.

Our Christian faith is embodied

Okay so we know now (if we didn’t before) that our bodies are good.  Our faith can teach us that.  So we’ll move on to explore how our Christian faith is embodied.  Remember our Gospel text from the 24th Chapter of Luke—Jesus shows up among the disciples and extends peace to them.  This was probably done in some physical way.  As they still wonder about their risen teacher, he asks them for something to eat and receives fish.  Hospitality is shown.  Jesus was literally fed by his followers in this resurrection story.

If we want to follow Jesus Christ the best that we can, it’s great to have developed theologies and know what we believe.  But if we don’t put those beliefs into action and live out the teachings of Jesus beyond the confines of church buildings, what’s the point?  The Gospel shows us over and again that we can show hospitality by serving others in Christ’s name.  Sometimes that’s literally feeding people at soup kitchens or church dinners or in our homes.  Other times we serve others by our willingness to write or call or visit, spending quality time.  We have the other person and their needs in mind.

Furthermore, consider how our worship service is an embodied experience.  We may be historic and traditional in some ways when it comes to worship (this happens when your congregation was founded in 1703!)  But our worship here is still embodied.  We gather physically in this space together.  We stand and sit as we are able.  We sing.  We pass the peace of Christ.  We pray.  We end our time together in a circle around the sanctuary holding hands or shoulders.  We may attend coffee hour for fellowship—laughter and hugs, coffee and donuts.  Sometimes we have services of healing and anoint one another.  Sometimes we do a laying on of hands and bless one another.  Sometimes we use water here or go on down to the river to baptize in the name of Jesus Christ.  Church is an experience that we have with our bodies.

On Communion Sundays we eat and drink, modeling an embodied experience that Jesus had with his disciples.  Jesus’ ministry was all about table fellowship.  He hung out with people that others didn’t always approve of—sometimes because of their bodies (lepers, prostitutes, women, etc.)  Jesus had the audacity to break bread with them and embody compassion.  That lesson remains for us to enact as his disciples here and now.

Finally, think of how Jesus embodied a ministry of service when he washed the feet of his disciples.  People wore sandals and walked most places in Jesus’ day.  The climate in the Middle East remains hot.  Feet in sandals walking around the dusty roads weren’t always pleasant.  It was the custom that people washed their feet upon entering a home.  It was a sign of respect and done for hygienic purposes.  Though you didn’t wash your own feet at another person’s home.  A servant would wash.  If they didn’t have a servant, perhaps a child.  Though on the last night of his life (before the resurrection that would come), Jesus himself stooped down and washed the feet of his disciples.  Jesus said, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you”[6]

This act fundamentally changed the faith.  Serving one another got really real.  And in one final reflection for today’s sermon anyway, Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper?  With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together when he was gone.  Instead, he gave them concrete things to do—specific ways of being together in their bodies—that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.”[7]

In the end and however we understand resurrection, we can understand that somehow God radically came to us in the person of Jesus.  A flesh and blood human being who embodied what it means to love and serve God with everything we’ve got.  God doesn’t make junk.  Our bodies are good.  And our Christian faith is embodied.  We can go forth from this place with hopeful hearts to live out Christ’s love in our broken and beautiful world.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 24:36-43, NRSV.
[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, 48.
[3] Luke 24:39.
[4] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 41.
[5] Genesis 1:31.
[6] John 13:14-15.
[7] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 43.