Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“Our Bodies Our Faith”
Sermon, Year C, Easter 2, April 7, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
©Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: John 20:19-31

We are coming off of a very wonderful Holy week. If we can call a week that is centered around crucifixion ‘wonderful’. We had some great worship services that were meaningful, nourishing, soul-bless. I think one of the best Holy Weeks that I remember in quite some time. Wonderful week. We began with the Passion Narrative dramatic reading. Our wonderful voice actors here at Plymouth brought life to the narrative on Palm/Passion Sunday, and our children also helped with that. We had Maundy Thursday worship with Communion, washing of hands, and we read the Tenebrae readings in darkness, and cloaking the sanctuary in black fabric. Good Friday service down at First Congregational. And then last Sunday we had a very happy and joy-filled worship service and celebration of resurrection and Easter with a lot of wonderful music and a delicious array of magnificent muffins before worship.

It was a really, really good Holy Week.

The disciples also had their Holy Week. They weren’t calling it Holy Week at the time because they didn’t know how it would end or that it would be a week. For them, it wasn’t so wonderful. Not so wonderful, because they were living it. They were experiencing it as it happened. They weren’t reading about it like we are. We can read about it knowing how it ends. We know the end of the story. They were living it. They were the ones at Jesus’ feet, learning and experiencing Jesus. They were eating with him. They are the ones who had their feet washed by him. They are the ones who betrayed him, abandoned him, watched him be crucified, and who buried him.

And while our Easter morning was full of glorious music and the Good News of life and new life and resurrection and second chances and new opportunities in God’s grace, their Easter was filled with really weird stuff. It was a really weird day for them. Beginning with an empty tomb. A missing body. And angels. And this very neatly folded linen that had wrapped Jesus, sitting on the bench in the tomb. It is a pretty strange day. Don’t normally encounter that kind of a day, especially after the kind of week that they had. Then, later that evening of the day with the empty tomb, angels, and Mary saying that she saw the risen Lord, while in a locked room you have a back-to-life friend who just appears and says, “Peace be with you.”

As we went through Lent, especially toward the end of Lent, I was particular struck this year by the physicality of all of this. Especially of Holy Week. There has always been this bodily, physical part. But for some reason this year it really struck me and I have been thinking of it a lot. I think that in my Maundy Thursday sermon and some others I have hit on this. There is something about the physicality of it this year that struck me.

Certainly the whole story of Jesus is a physical, embodied, incarnational story. It begins on Christmas: God incarnate. God coming to us as a human being, as the baby Jesus. It begins as an incarnational story. A boy who is God; a god who is boy. It does seem like we often, in the church, kind of forget about that incarnational embodied aspect of the faith. We tend to think that our minds should be on spiritual matters, and differentiate the spiritual from the physical as though the body is separate from the spiritual realm. Or forget – maybe even deny – that we live in bodies. We are flesh. The universe is created, at least partly, of physical things.

That incarnational bodily thought began the week before Palm Sunday when we read the story of Mary. The Mary of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. That story of Mary [I accidentally called her Martha in the sermon, in case you are listening along] anointing Jesus’ feet with that costly nard and wiping it with her hair. [read/listen to my sermon on that text] It is a very intimate physical act. Holy love expressed through love of the body. There is no shame of having a body and recognition that the spiritual is incarnational. That the body’s physical matter is spiritual as well. There was a group in the very first couple centuries of the Church, a branch of Christianity that we call the Gnostics, that denied the physical nature. [That link has a far more detailed and nuanced description of Gnosticism than these few sentences] They said that all flesh is corrupt, all flesh is evil, so we need to deny our bodies and deny the physicality and think only of that which is spiritual. And they took to that idea so much that they said the flesh is so corrupt, that even though God came as Jesus, he was not human at all. He was purely spiritual matter because flesh is too corrupt and evil for God to enter into it, and doing so would make God impure or unholy. And that branch was eventually toned down, fought down, beat down... it wasn’t a really nice debate in which they said “Okay, yeah, we see your point” they were hammered out of Christianity. And church doctrine became that Jesus was fully human and fully divine at the same time. It is the spiritual and the flesh together. So there is a physical property.

And we got that on Palm Sunday. Jesus enters into Jerusalem on a colt. And then Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. And he wipes his feet with his robe. Then he feeds them. He gives them wine. They sing. It is a physical act to sing. They go to the garden to pray. They had to walk there. They had to go there in bodily form. They prayed. Jesus is arrested and put on trial. He is passed from Pilate over to Herod back to Pilate. And then crucified. That is certainly an incredibly physical moment, to be crucified. Then he is buried, put in the tomb and the stone rolled over it and the disciples say goodbye to their friend, teacher, and guide.

Then a couple days later is another physical event, but one with nothing there. They go to the tomb and the body is gone. There is no body. Just a linen. Then later that evening, in a locked room, all the disciples except Thomas are there and suddenly there he is in bodily form. Jesus shows up! He shows you his wounds. He says, “Am I real? Yes! Yes I am! Look. Touch. Feel my hands. Feel my side. Touch the wounds. It’s me. It’s Jesus. I’m really here!”

I imagine he may have said, “Do you want to know how much I love you? How much God loves you? Then touch and look and feel these wounds that I endured and went through. Listen to my words. Trust your eyes that I am here.” He may even have said, “Smell me.” is feet may still have been fragrant from the nard of Mary. I don’t imagine that he would have said, “Taste me”, probably didn’t go for that particular sense. But he will, in a few days after what we read here in the Gospel, come back again to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias and will have prepared breakfast for them, a breakfast of grilled fish. And he can say there, “Have some fish. Have breakfast. Taste. This is my love for you. You can taste it in this breakfast I have prepared for you. Your body needs food to live, so here is food. Let me give this to you.” And then while they are eating they are on the shoreline, Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my lambs.: Then he says, “Tend my sheep.” And then he says, “Feed my sheep.”

Love lived out in bodily form. We are called to do embodied acts. Christian faith is lived incarnationally. Bodily. Tending to physical needs. “I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was hungry and you gave me food. I was in prison and you visited me.”

Embodied love.

So I think here that we shouldn’t be too harsh on Thomas. Because the disciples’ whole experience with Jesus has been embodied and physical. They have seen what Jesus has done, heard it, been able to touch it, they have been witnesses to everything Jesus has done. And all the disciples except Thomas have seen the risen Jesus. They have had the physical experience of seeing Jesus, and touching him, hearing him, smelling him. And so why wouldn’t Thomas want that same experience of seeing the risen Jesus as well? Maybe he feels kind of cheated? “Why would he show up when I wasn’t there?” No one has been asked to believe without seeing so far in any of Jesus’ story. Thomas just wants what the other disciples had. And I don’t think Thomas’ failure here is a failure in not believing that Jesus is risen. I think he believes, or is certainly ready to believe it. He just wants to see it.

If there is any failure here, then his failure is that he doesn’t believe his friends. These people he has traveled with for a few years that he ought to trust more. Trust their witness. Trust their testimony. Believe that they would not lie to him. But even so, I am not going to fault Thomas here. He has been through a lot as all the disciples have, and as we have experienced in life if we are going through grief or anxiety we often act in ways that aren’t in our normal nature. We do unusual things. That is just part of the process. Any of us can do odd things, and I think that being told that the guy you thought was the messiah and saw died is now alive, you might not take that on faith. You might want to see it as everyone else had.

Then in another physical act when Jesus is in the room with his disciples he breathes on them. “Here is the Holy Spirit. Have the Holy Spirit.” Because soon Jesus is going to disappear, and the Holy Spirit is what is left behind for us. He breathes on them. And then he gives them this charge: “If you forgive, it shall be so. If you don’t forgive, then it shall be so.” Which I take is more Jesus warning them about not being too slow to forgive. I think this is Jesus’ way of saying, “You have incredible power. Use it for good. Forgive. Don’t ever not forgive, because if you don’t forgive, that stays with people.” It certainly stays with the one who refuses to forgive. And given some of the other commands that Jesus has offered over his time together about washing feet, loving one another, loving enemies, praying for enemies, feeding the sheep, tending the sheep, and giving water and food to those who need it, I think Jesus is saying, “Forgive. Be forgiving. And meet the needs of the people who are around you.”

That is where we are called to be. To meet the needs of our neighbors. Some would reduce Christianity to simply being about getting into heaven, and I think that misses a whole big part of what our faith is. It’s not about getting to heaven, it is about embodying the Kingdom here. Embodying heaven here. Bringing heaven on earth. Bringing the Kingdom here on earth to the people around us and being engaged in the world.

And so we live out this incarnational charge from Jesus to be his body here on earth. Part of our communion litany is to remind us that we are the Body of Christ, and so we live out our incarnational charge here in Eau Claire with quilts. With our street ministry. We live it out by feeding one another. Not just feeding our neighbors, but one another. How many meals have we served in the history of this congregation? How many people have been fed in our 126 years as a church? And we meet the physical needs of our community through St. Francis and the Community, and giving to OCWM (Our Church’s Wider Mission, the money that goes to the denomination that helps with disaster relief to bring food, medical supplies, tents, blankets, clothing, whatever might be needed). That is all part of us embodying, being the embodied spirit of Christ here on earth.

We also have it in our sacraments. Our baptism and communion are both also physical embodied acts. The water of baptism for cleansing, and the bread and wine of Communion for nourishing body and soul.

I saw a quote that was about the embodied nature of communion and the sacraments that “It is not so much that we find there a better Christ than we can find in the Word;” that we can find a better Christ through this physical act than we can in hearing the Word or doing something less physical, it’s not so much that we find in it a better Christ than we find in the Word, but that “We might find Christ better through that act.”

So think of that as we celebrate Communion this morning.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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