That Blessed Dependancy

"There wee leave you in that blessed dependancy, to hang upon him who hangs upon the Crosse…" -John Donne, "Death's Duell"

Tag: bodies

The Resurrection was BODILY

Each week in Eastertide, at Trinity Cathedral’s 4:00 p.m. Sunday evensong, my colleague the Rev’d Canon Emily Hylden and I will be preaching a series of brief homilies exploring different aspects of the Resurrection. The series began yesterday evening with the affirmation that “The Resurrection was BODILY.” I will continue to post my own future sermons in this series, and will also link to Emily’s sermons over on her blog (assuming she posts them!).

A Sermon Preached at Evensong on the Second Sunday of Easter, April 12, 2015

by the Rev’d Canon Dane E. Boston, Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina

Hymns at Evensong: Hymn 412, “Earth and all stars”; Hymn 196 “Look there! the Christ, our Brother”

May I speak in the Name of Christ Jesus Crucified and Risen. Amen.

Evensongs in Eastertide will include a series a brief homilies on the Resurrection. In discussing the central, glorious mystery of our faith–the axis upon which the Church turns, and the astonishing fact around which our lives as Christians are oriented–it seems appropriate to focus first on the most practical, physical, down-to-earth details. So it is that we begin our series this afternoon with the affirmation that the Resurrection was bodilyThe person Jesus of Nazareth really and truly died. The person Jesus of Nazareth really and truly rose.

This may seem so obvious that it should hardly be worth stating. But the fact is that, from the very earliest times right down through the present day, the earthiness–the physicality–of the Resurrection has caused scandal. It has been a stumbling block (which is actually the root meaning of that word “scandal”). It has been downplayed and held at a distance. It has even been denied. Because the Resurrection is so earth-shaking–so profoundly difficult to wrap our minds around–there has always been a desire to spiritualize it, to push it into the misty realm of metaphor and metaphysics, to make it something light and airy–dealing with minds and souls, perhaps, but surely not with the heavy, clunky business of bodies.

And so today there are some people who say that the Resurrection wasn’t a real, physical event, but instead was just a new hope born in the minds of the disciples. Some people say that the Resurrection wasn’t about Jesus bursting from the tomb, but was in fact about his followers rising out of their post-crucifixion depression. Some people say that the Resurrection wasn’t anything to do with the body of Jesus, but rather was about the spirit of Jesus, the essence of Jesus, the undying immortal teaching of Jesus living on in his Church.

This tendency to spiritualize may well be encouraged by the fact that Jesus’ resurrected body was, indeed, different. All four Gospels agree that the risen body of Jesus is a transformed body. It can enter houses when the doors and windows are locked fast. It can appear and disappear in ways that normal human bodies cannot. It can even befuddle close friends and followers, preventing them from recognizing just who it is they are walking with, talking with, and sitting down to table with.

And yet, even while affirming the strange truth that Christ’s resurrected body is a transformed body, the four evangelists are also at pains to demonstrate that Christ’s resurrected body is a real body. It is a body that eats broiled fish and takes and breaks bread. It is a body that breathes real breath and bears real wounds. It is a body that can touch and be touched.

In light of this witness, we face a two-fold challenge. We must resist the urge to spiritualize, to transcendentalize, to explain away or apologize for the bodily Resurrection of Jesus. In the words of John Updike, “Let us not mock God with metaphor.” But the wonder of the empty tomb calls us beyond negatives–beyond things we ought not to say. The Resurrection also calls us to speak positively–to affirm what it is that God does by raising Jesus from the grave.

Scripture also calls us to affirm that what God accomplishes in the Resurrection is not merely the recovery of the old creation, but is instead the beginning of a new creation. When we affirm that Christ’s Resurrection was bodily, we say something about the created order–about this physical world of atoms and molecules, of “earth and all stars…[of] hail, wind, and rain…[of] daughter[s] and son[s]…[and even of those] loud boiling test-tubes”–through all of which seethes and breathes the very life of God. We say something about ourselves–about these bodies beautiful and broken, these bodies strong and weak, these bodies old and young, these bodies vital and vitiated–these bodies that live and these bodies that die.

For to affirm that the Risen Jesus was raised a new, a transformed body is to affirm our faith that the God who formed Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of his own Spirit will not abandon any part of us to ultimate destruction. It is to affirm God’s purpose, God’s intention, God’s power to “preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.” It is to affirm our gift and call, as Christian women and men, to meet the needs of the bodies around us, even as we meet the needs of the souls: to feed hungry stomachs even as we heal wounded hearts–to clean cracked feet, even as we bandage broken spirits. It is to affirm that Christ our brother, about whom we will shortly sing with overflowing joy, is our brother indeed: he has known every sorrow that wrings the human breast–he has felt every pang that our bodies can endure–he has carried all that we are and all that we have to his cross of shame, and he is now gloriously risen in the fullness of his humanity, and ours.

And it is to affirm one thing more. If Christ is raised, then we have hope at the end of our lives and at the hour of our death. St Paul the Apostle, who vigorously opposed any attempt to turn the Resurrection into a mere metaphor, says this in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain…And if Christ be not raised…ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

The faith fails, says Paul, if Christ has not really and truly been raised. But from this grim prospect, Paul continues in triumph: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam in all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

In the bodily Resurrection of Jesus our Lord, beloved, we find hope for our frail and feeble bodies. For this mortal must put on immortality. This corruptible must put on incorruption. My body, your body, this human body, even though it dies, yet shall it live. “For now is Christ risen from the Dead.” AMEN.

Jesus is the Answer

A Sermon Preached on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 18, 2015

By the Rev’d Canon Dane E. Boston, Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina

Texts: I Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

May I speak in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Questions. Our readings this morning are filled with questions. We began with Paul asking the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Do you not know that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit within you? Do you not know that you are not your own?” Then in our Gospel, we heard Nathanael ask Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” just before he asks Jesus, “Where did you get to know me?” And after earnest Nathanael makes his remarkable confession of faith, finally we heard Jesus himself ask, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?”

Yes, questions abound in our Scripture today. And when it comes to facing an enormous pile of apparently unrelated questions, I must claim one distinct advantage over my esteemed clergy colleagues: I live in the same house as a four-year-old. Any of you who have spent time with a young child will know what I mean. The questions in our home are constant, and run the gamut from the serious and sacred to the surprising and absurd, often all in the same conversation, sometimes in the same breath! My wife and I frequently find ourselves fielding a question as difficult and important as “Mama, where is heaven?” and then as if attempting a reasonably plausible answer to that question weren’t hard enough, it’s often followed close behind by a question as straightforward and mundane as, “Papa, why is ketchup red?”

Four-year-olds have a special gift and calling to explore the world through their questions, and to help their grown-ups see and think a little differently. But that basic human need to question, to wonder, to seek, never really goes away. Adult men and women may not ask every single question that pops into our heads, and that’s probably for the best. And yet, we still have questions—we still yearn to know.

And so it is that our readings today confront us with some of the most important questions in the Christian faith and life. Now it may not seem that way at first. It may seem to you that our readings this morning are nothing more than St Paul ranting about an uncomfortable topic, and Jesus showing off to Nathanael with a little parlor trick. But let us attend more closely to the questions we hear this morning. Let us listen for the answers that break forth from God’s Word.

It’s Paul’s rhetorical questions in First Corinthians that grab our attention first, not because he seems to be discussing anything profound or spiritual, but because he talks about sex. Nothing like the phrase “Shun fornication!” ringing out through the church to make us sit up and listen. And yet Paul’s intention in this passage was not to shock and startle the good Christian folk of Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina one January morning in 2015. (Or at least, that was not his only intention.) Rather, Paul writes so boldly and bluntly to the Corinthians in order to address a larger question of enormous importance: What part do our bodies play in our spiritual lives?

That’s a more difficult question than it may seem at first. You see,  there were some in Corinth who reasoned that, because God had released and renewed them spiritually, it didn’t matter what they did physically. They took the freedom that Christ had won for them as an opportunity for license, arguing that “All things are lawful for me.” For the Corinthians, this apparently meant approaching meals–even the Eucharist–with a greedy, gluttonous mentality. And it also seems to have resulted in utter lawlessness in sex and sexual relations. “Who cares what I do with my body? All things are lawful for me!”

This tendency to discount or downplay the importance of our physical bodies in our spiritual lives has always been a temptation for Christians. Knowing ourselves to be free from the constraints and demands of the ritual laws of Moses—knowing ourselves free to eat without worrying about kosher laws, free to dress ourselves without worrying about clothing laws, free to pursue our business without worrying about commercial laws, and free to worship without worrying about ceremonial laws—the Church has, in some times and some places, almost forgotten that bodies matter.

The Church, and her members, have almost forgotten that we human beings are incarnate, enfleshed creatures—not simply creatures with bodies, but creatures that are bodies. Neglecting the reality of our physical bodies does not only open us up to all the temptations and tendencies that would dominate and enslave us–the pursuit of wealth, and the pursuit of sex; the tendency to overeat, and the addictive traps of drugs and alcohol. But neglecting the reality of our physical bodies also denies the miracles at the very heart of our faith: the mystery of the Word made flesh and the wonder of Christ’s bodily resurrection.

So what Paul sets out to do in this morning’s passage laden with sharp rhetorical questions is to remind the Corinthians that not only do their bodies matter: their bodies have been purchased, claimed, and consecrated. To belong to the Church—to be a member of Christ’s body—means that they are now free in new and wonderful ways: free from the sins that enslaved them, free from the hurts that haunted them, free from the fear of death itself. But it also means that they are now bound in new and wonderful ways: bound together in the mystical body of Christ, bound in obedience to their Lord, bound by the knowledge that “you are not your own. For you were bought with a price.” And in that announcement, everything changes.

Now if Paul’s questions to the Corinthians tackle the practical problems of living the life of faith in and with our physical bodies, the questions we find in our Gospel lesson appear to swing us in the opposite direction, entirely into the realm of spiritual ponderings. This morning in John’s Gospel we meet Nathanael, “truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit,” earnestly pursuing what we might call his own spiritual journey.

That’s what the first question in our reading reveals. As amusing and surprising as Nathanael’s query may seem—“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”—he does not mean it as a put-down of Jesus’ hometown. What that question shows us is that Nathanael is a serious student of the Hebrew Scriptures, and that he is eagerly seeking after the Messiah. He knows that no promise of prophecy looks for the anointed Savior of God to rise out of Nazareth. Nevertheless, Nathanael accepts Philip’s invitation to “Come and see.”

Faithfully pursuing his spiritual quest, Nathanael is not prepared for what happens next. For just as Nathanael’s first question about Nazareth is not a put-down but a sign of his earnest journey, so too is Jesus’ reply to the question, “Where did you get to know me?” not a parlor trick, but a moment of revelation. “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you,” Jesus says.

And after all of his seeking, all of his asking, all of his yearning to know, Nathanael finds himself known in an instant. When his path of wondering leads him into the presence of Jesus, Nathanael suddenly finds himself not the subject of his own sentences, but the object of another’s pronouncement—not the one doing the seeking, but the one being sought. And in that moment, everything changes.

Beloved, I said at the outset of this sermon that the questions that confront us today are some of the most important in the Christian faith and life. And so it is. For still today, we must ask ourselves about the appropriate use of Christian freedom when it comes to our bodies—in what we do, and in how we live. Still today, God claims us wholly, completely, and in every aspect of our lives. And that claim chafes against our own hungers and lusts—our own drives and desires. Still today, we can find ourselves stuck on a pendulum, swinging between the assertion that bodies don’t matter and we can each do whatever we please, and the belief that what we do with and to our bodies can change our relationship with God.

And still today St Paul calls to us, reminding us that our bodies do matter: not because they can become our pathway to God, but because this flesh has already become God’s pathway to us. For what Paul describes and what Jesus reveals today is not a God who sits distant, bidding us each pursue his own path—each follow her own questions—each seek out the truth that fits for each and each alone.

What we see, instead, in our question-colored passages this morning, is a God who steps down into our wondering. What we find among the queries and the quandaries of our Scripture this day is a God who knows us intimately, who cares for us deeply, and who claims us fully.

For the power in our passages today comes not from the force of the questions nor the eagerness of the askers. The power in our passages comes not from the strength of human seeking nor the certainty of human answers. Rather, the power of our passages this morning comes in the resounding response made by God himself.

When Paul asks his biting, incisive rhetorical questions, he asks them in response to the Corinthians’ human ponderings and expectations. But Paul answers them not according to human thought but in light of what God has done. Because Christ Jesus dwelt among us in human flesh, our human flesh now belongs to God. Because Christ Jesus bore a body like ours, the way we use our body reflects on him. Because Christ Jesus gave his body to be broken and his blood to be poured out, our lowly flesh and blood have become the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit of God.

And when Nathanael poses his earnest, practical question to Jesus, he poses it as if he is asking a remarkable human being. But Jesus answers with the knowing, loving voice of Almighty God. To Nathanael’s straightforward, “I’m sorry, have we met?” comes Christ’s cosmic reply, “Dear child, I know you better than you know yourself. I know your sitting down and your rising up. I discern your thoughts from afar. I know that you are fearfully, wonderfully made, for I made you: I knit you together in your mother’s womb, and I hold all the days of your life in the palm of my hand.”

For Jesus is the end and answer of all our questions, because in him, the God whom we seek comes seeking us. Jesus is the answer, and we may say this not with the glib certainty of the fundamentalist nor with the cold caveats of the skeptic, but because in Christ Jesus God grasps us. Jesus is the answer, not because in him we have found our own private, personal path to God, but because through him, God has been pleased to draw near to us.

Jesus is the answer because in him, God cuts through all of our questioning, all of our seeking, all of our searching. In Jesus, God pierces through all of our desires, all of our doubts, all of our hungers, and all of our hopes. In Jesus, God claims us, body and soul. God purchases us—all that we are and all that we have—with the priceless currency of his own blood. God calls us, and sends us to invite others, to “Come and see…the One about whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote,” the One who was foretold and who is come at last.

And in Jesus, the God who knows us better than we know ourselves; the God who loves us more than we either desire or deserve; the God who has given himself to be the great answer to all of our questions; the God who uses common water to wash us throughly; the God who makes ordinary bread and wine to nourish our souls: this God promises us that we shall yet see greater things than these.