April 28, 2019: How does Jesus Save our Bodies? by Frances Kitson (John 20: 19-31)

Christianity has somehow made salvation about our souls, and often we’ve taught that being saved means going to heaven instead of hell. But what about today? What about here and now? How are we saved in this life, in these bodies? That is the question that intrigues me this morning with this passage.

Jesus shows up as a body: a body that breathes, a body with wounds. This is not a ghost, this is not a spirit; neither is it a shiny, intact body, restored to what it was before his death. Jesus shows up in a body.

Christianity has a shameful history of degrading, belittling, and denigrating the body. We have taught that it comes second to the spirit; that it is something to be denied and punished; that any physical pleasure is morally suspect.

We have punished the bodies of women: we have taught that the pain and risk of childbirth is the price women are meant to pay as a result of Eve’s actions; we have taught that women are called to be virginal and without any physical desire; we have taught that women are responsible for the behaviour of men and that any assault they suffer is their fault.

We have punished the bodies of non-white people, lending theological credence to lynchings, enslavement, and racist laws.

We continue to punish the bodies of our queer siblings: rejecting those who don’t fit gender binaries or love the people we insist they are supposed to love.

There is much of which we are called to repent.

And the problem with all of the above is that is actually goes against one of the most fundamental pieces of Christian doctrine: Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ was both fully human and fully divine.

The Athanasian Creed of the 4th century has this to say: “He is God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; / and he is Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world”. Every one of the statements of doctrine in the United Church manual make reference to Jesus as God incarnate.

The human body is not only created by God; it has been assumed by God. Christianity teaches that God has inhabited the human body and walked in it on earth. The human body is loved by God. It is not something to be despised; it is created by God and God has called it good.

The Jewish heritage of Jesus did not preach ascetism, or denial of the body, as a means of faithfulness. There were ideas about purity and impurity, but impurity wasn’t a bad thing. It was just a fact of life, and it was the place where people lived our everyday lives.

Jesus doesn’t preach punishment of the body either. There might be demands placed upon the body in order to focus it to prepare for the urgency of the coming of the kingdom of God, but Jesus was called a glutton and a drunkard by his peers, because he seemed to always be feasting and merrymaking with his friends.

Jesus used everyday situations to illustrate his points. He talked about sheep, and a woman sweeping her house, and mustard seeds. He talked about a physical, tangible life that is lived in the body. Jesus healed the physical suffering of people who came to him. Jesus celebrated at wedding feasts. Jesus lived a physical life in his physical body.

Jesus died a physical death in his physical body.

And Jesus rose from his physical death in a physical body.

The factual veracity or biological likelihood of any of this is not the question at issue. This story is handed down to us from our forebears in faith as a story of good news, a story of salvation, and our job is to listen for how God is speaking to us today, here and now, through this story. My question, then, in interrogating this story would be this: from what do our physical bodies need saving here and now?

In the world in which we live, we are offered stories that are both life-denying and life-affirming. One of the most life-denying, dangerous stories the world offers, and it’s a story that gets some people killed, is that some bodies matter more than others. The bodies that matter are the young, white, straight, cisgender, slim, muscular, polished, well-dressed, male, masculine bodies that never suffer illness.

Which leaves a whole lot of us out.

It leaves out trans bodies, queer bodies, old bodies, female bodies, soft bodies, round bodies, black bodies, south Asian bodies, Indigenous bodies.

It leaves out the body that uses a walker, a wheelchair, or a crutch.

It leaves out the body with wrinkles, rolls, age spots, and white hair.

It leaves out the body with pain, whether it’s the pain of knees wearing out or endometriosis.

It leaves out the body that doesn’t fit into categories: the body that doesn’t express its gender in either pink or blue; the body that isn’t skilled at the activities its gender is supposed to be good at, whether wearing makeup or wielding a chainsaw; the body that wears the clothes it isn’t supposed to.

And when a body doesn’t matter, then it’s dispensable.

It can get shot by police.

It can have its assault belittled by the justice system.

It can be a target for the rage of good guys who have just had a little too much to drink.

The story that some bodies don’t matter will get some of us killed. The story that some bodies don’t matter will make its wounds upon all our hearts. And one of the wounds is that we will at some point be complicit in that story.

Jesus says “no” to that story.

Jesus said “no” in his life, in his ministry, and in his resurrection.

The risen Jesus has gone on saying “no” to that story for the last two thousand years.

Jesus rises from what should have killed him – in fact, did kill him. None of this spiritualizing or sanitizing his death: Jesus of Nazareth died a horrible death, and it most emphatically killed him, but that was not the point. The suffering and the death are not the point of the crucifixion; the resurrection is the point.

Jesus has suffered as we suffer. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, God incarnate entered agony, humiliation, betrayal, rejection, and death. God knows our pain because God has lived it. Jesus was most definitely a body that didn’t matter.

In his resurrection, Jesus rises in a body that bears the wounds of the cross but is very much alive. Jesus lives a physical resurrection from a physical death, and in so doing, lives out divine love of the human body.

Your body.

My body.

Our bodies.

Our bodies that, for whatever reason, society deems unworthy of love. Our bodies that don’t count. Our bodies that aren’t good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, white enough, normal enough, straight enough, cis enough, young enough, disciplined enough, hot enough.

The resurrected Jesus rose as a human body, warm and breathing, living a life that by all known rules of the universe should have been impossible, and that is the story Jesus offers us. That is the good news this story offers us.

The wounded, discarded, rejected body is loved by God and invited into new, impossible, joyous life. A life with scars, yes. A life that will not be the same as the life we had, or the life thought we should have, or the life we thought we wanted. We might not live a life that will get us on a magazine cover. We might not live the shiny, pretty life that is supposed to be the life that matters. We definitely will not live a life without pain.

But my friends, we are going to live a life in God. In our bodies.

Your body.

My body.

Our bodies.

These beloved bodies are who we are, and they are beloved by God. We are the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is full of life and possibility. And as such, let’s take the risk of faith this morning.

Let’s dare to say “yes” to God.

Let’s dare to live faith and resurrection and impossible life in these beautiful, broken, scarred bodies of ours.

Let’s dare to hear God’s call to rise from our graves, put away our burial cloths, and come out of the tomb into a life in God, in Christ, in the Spirit. For truly, I tell you: it is calling us.

Thanks be to God.