Christianity is about a body.
Yes, a body, a particular body- the body of a man, who was known to his kin as Jesus, and who revealed himself to humanity as Christ the Lord.
That body of Jesus is what matters most, for it is the means that God uses to make himself known and to show us what he wants from us and what he wants to do for us.
I know, so many of us Christians have been hoodwinked into thinking that Christian faith is about ideas or feelings that we associate with Jesus or about the institutions we build in his name, but ideas, feelings, and institutions come and go and God didn’t privilege any of these things when he wanted to reveal himself to us. Instead, what God did was to show himself to us in a body and through this body, God met humanity face to face.
This is what is unique about the Christian faith- God’s body- the body of Jesus. The great revelation of Christian faith is that God, the one, true God, accepted as his own a human nature and lived a real human life. This meant, of course, God accepted a body- a human body as his own. Most people who believe in God don’t think this is possible or proper, and it is our belief as Christians that God makes this possible and proper that differentiates our the Christian faith from other ways of believing about God. We believe that God has in Christ a body- a human body, the body of a man. This body was a real body and because God in Christ has a body, it means that he lived for a time in this world, in a particular place and among particular people. We are not talking about a myth here, but a fact of history.
The technical term that Christians will use to describe God in Christ’s body is the Incarnation, which literally means that God becomes flesh- skin and bones, hair and nails, muscles and blood. “Carne” is the root word for incarnation, and that word means “meat” (carnivorous means a meat-eater or if you order “carne asada” at a Mexican restaurant the server will bring you a steak- you will be served meat. And so, the incarnation is strange and off putting- God becomes meat, he becomes flesh (and if that wasn’t strange and off putting enough, he even makes that flesh, that meat, his body, our food).
The Church proclaims the Incarnation throughout the year, and one of the days this strange off putting fact about God is highlighted, is what most people know as Christmas day- the day when the world saw God’s body for the first time. Because God wanted to reveal himself in a body, he accepted the conditions through which human bodies come into this world- he gestated in a womb and was born as a baby.
Now, most of us find the Christmas celebration of God’s body as appealing because who doesn’t like babies? And God becoming a baby makes him not only irresistible but maybe somewhat controllable, a playmate.
Flash forward from Christmas to now- Easter Sunday- another day when the Church proclaims the Incarnation, reminding us again that God has a body. Unlike Christmas, the Easter body of Jesus is much harder for folks to take- the baby has grown up into a big, strong, hairy man, and not only this, but Easter presents a body that has for a time been dead and buried and is now alive. If God becoming a baby was strange and off-putting, God being dead and coming back to life in a body is even more strange and off putting. But that’s what God does in his body.
And strange and off putting as it is, it is what Christianity is all about.
That body. His body. Christ’s Body. God’s body.
That’s what it’s all about.
It’s easier perhaps to believe God is just an idea or a feeling or as is popular these days, to believe God is some kind of cosmic force. Easier perhaps, but that’s not what Christianity is about and it’s not what the Church believes about God and it’s not what God reveals about himself in Jesus Christ.
You can worship ideas and feelings and cosmic forces, but none of that is the one, true God- the one, true God is the God who has a body- the God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ.
God became flesh in a body. The body of Jesus is his revelation. He suffered in a body. He died in a body and he rose from the dead in a body. And when we see him, which we believe we all one day will, we will see him in his body.
Now, the Gospels go out of their way to make this point over and over again, and the point is made with particular intensity in all the Gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
In all the eyewitness testimony to Christ’s resurrection in the Gospel, the point is made that the resurrection happens to the body of Jesus and that Jesus presents himself to his disciples as a real, flesh and blood, living body. And thus, this is what Easter Sunday celebrates- that Jesus Christ was once dead, but now he is alive and he demonstrated to his disciples in an encounter with his body- with his flesh.
Some might prefer a different kind of resurrection. Something symbolic or metaphorical, something that happens in abstractions rather than in flesh and blood, but none of that is what the Gospels describe as Christ’s resurrection. Christ’s resurrection from the dead is about a real, body that was once dead and is now alive.
Now, some of you, who have been patient enough to listen to me, might be thinking- all very interesting, but what does it have to do with me?
I’ll briefly explain.
God did not accept a body because he was interested in the experience. God did not come into this world as a tourist on vacation. God accepted a body as a means of revealing to us a truth about himself, yes, but also a truth about ourselves.
The truth about ourselves that God reveals is that our bodies matter, after all our bodies mattered enough for God to accept a human body as his own. It is because of God in Christ’s body that the bodies of other people matter to us- especially when they are hungry or cold or homeless or imprisoned or bereaved or ignorant, or disabled or lonely or weak or unloved or ugly or sick or despairing or dead. Those bodies in those conditions matter to us because God in Christ revealed, in his own body, how important real human bodies are to him.
I will leave you with this. One of the great errors or terrors of our time is that folks professing to be Christians don’t actually believe what God in Christ wants his disciples to believe. Some Christians find certain doctrines or dogmas hard to take or difficult to believe and so they either ignore those beliefs or try to change them. One example of this is trying to make the Christians faith about ideas and feelings, and ideas and feelings that we are comfortable with, rather than contending with the facts about what God in Christ actually reveals.
Case in point- Christianity is about Christ’s body- not ideas about Jesus or feelings about him, but the dense, unyielding fact that God in Christ took our flesh and revealed himself as God with a body. Christian faith is about his body, Christ’s body, and because of his body its about real, human bodies- not programs we create, or institutions we maintain, or the ideas we prefer or the feelings that we choose. It’s about Christ’s body- real flesh and blood, muscle and bone. A body that lived and suffered and died and because it is God’s body, rose from the dead, and is alive even today.
It is his body that matters…