This morning in this sacred time together, we will celebrate Holy Communion, as we do the first Sundays of the month. Then after service we’ll break bread together again in celebration of our church’s now being able to harvest the sun.
This co-incidence of celebrations – communion and “sol”fest – can be an opportunity to reflect on how our relationship with God through Christ leads us to relate to ourselves as beings embodied here in this living earth.
What does our faith have to do with how we relate to our bodies, relate to other people’s bodies, and relate to this earth, as we are in truer relationship with God?
We know one answer to that question which has been widespread among Christians for a long time. And that is, basically: “If we want to live purely in devotion to God, we need to see that our bodies are the source of all sin, and our souls are better off getting as much distance from the body as possible.” The result is a fear and hate for our bodies – they are filthy things we should feel guilty about.
Right? This is a very widespread view among Christians. We find it a lot with Protestants and Evangelicals and Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.
We also know the other extreme, a secular extreme, which is hedonism.
“If it feels good, it is good and you should do it. No matter what. Who cares what the consequences are. No one has the right to try to make you feel bad for it by saying things like ‘Oh it hurts other people’ or ‘Oh hurts the earth.’” That’s hedonism.
So, what are our options here? If you know that the hedonistic approach to our bodies has got some moral problems, and if, God help you, you’re a Christian, is your only option to see our bodies and the material world as something to suppress and deny and fear and loath and feel guilty about?
Thank God, the answer is “No.”
And the answer is so clearly no that I actually think it’s surprising that the default Christian view seems to be that you gotta feel yucky about your body, and that the entire natural world is somehow this filthy mess that we have to force into order – the spirit and the body are separate and competing realms.
It’s surprising that this has become the default Christian view because the whole premise of our faith has to do with the sanctification of the body.
In Jesus as the Christ we find God embodied. Christ is the incarnation of the Divine. In-carn-nation, “carn” as in “carnal” or “carnivore” – “flesh” – Incarnation means “en-flesh-ment,” embodiment.
In Christ we find an extremely visceral revelation. And everyone who was close to that revelation said that it sanctified this world, restored Creation to its original goodness.
The earliest revelation to the Hebrew people was about the inherent goodness of Creation. That’s in Genesis, right?
The Creator looked over all Creation and sung out “Wow! So Good! So Very Good!”
This was a boldly life-affirming statement for the Hebrew people to make. Because the creation stories of the civilizations surrounding the ancient Hebrew people were all creation stories that said the opposite: they said the world was born of violence, not love, and was inherently vile, not vital and vibrant and Good.
But then we know about the Fall, right? Genesis tells of how humanity fell from that original goodness. The story is about alienation, separation, humanity becoming alienated or out of alignment with the Good Creator of the Good Creation, that’s how problems start. We can make gods of ourselves and gods of our own appetites and desires. And so, anger can become violence, desire become lust, hunger become greed. But our appetites and desires are not inherently good or bad, it’s just how we use them. We can use them in alignment or celebration of the Goodness of creation – and that’s what God wants:
Ecclesiastes 3:12-13: “I know there is nothing better than for people to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live: It is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.”
But we can also use our appetites and desires in ways that denies God’s will for Creation. And all of the Biblical Prophets make it very clear that the problem is when our appetites become a vicious selfishness that harms others. The Prophets are always saying things like God is on the side of those who are exploited and oppressed because of the out of control greed or lust or gluttony of others.
So, the body is not the problem, at all.
The problem is how we, as embodied beings, can get out of alignment with the original image of God set within us.
In Jesus we find
A particular body in history that becomes the cite for our Creators passionate engagement with the embodied life of all Creation. In Christ we find how God joins us in our human condition, by way of calling that creation back to our original purpose.
The stories about Jesus we find in the Gospels is very visceral stuff, driven by a tremendous spirit of what is possible, what is promised when we return to having God at the center of existence.
The Gospels are never about floating around in some kind of celestial realm totally evaporated from earthly reality.
The Gospels, the good news stories about Jesus are about the gnawing of hunger and what it’s like for that hunger to be satisfied;
they’re about what it’s like to thirst and then to find living waters that slake our yearning. The Gospels are about the metallic taste of fear and the relieving return to comfort and safety.
They are about rage that gets soothed and calmed.
The Gospels are about healing touch. They are about embracing the bodies of people whose bodies were never touched because of fear and judgment about their disease.
The Gospels are about sweat and labor and passion.
They are about tilling the earth and pushing seeds into the soil.
They are about those who work the harvest.
The Gospels are about floating out by boat into the waters at dawn, and casting out nets and hauling in the glistening and striving heft of the catch.
The Gospels are about the horrible momentum of the mob, they are about violence and pain, desperation and despair.
They about sorrow and love, the heat of tears as people pour oil over the body of the beloved and prepare it to return to the earth.
The Gospels are about an experience of new life beyond death, here on earth,
An experience so astonishing, so full of light, of vitality, of love-force fiercer than death, the raw power of the Creator in full triumph – experiences so real, a reality more vivid than we’ve ever known. The Gospels are about laughter and song through the generations, the humming rhythms of prayer, shared struggle in joy of redeption, the glow of shared hope.
The Gospels are about broken bread and warm cups of wine, shared among all who hunger and thirst.
In the Gospels we find a God who joins us in the intimate experiences of life on earth, helps us to transform all of our joy and pain and love and suffering, our yearning, our hunger, our creative force, transform all of that into nourishment that never ends
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, from “Hymn of the Universe”
“I will raise myself beyond these symbols of bread and wine and alter, and up to the pure majesty of what is real, itself;
I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it I will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world.
Over there, on the horizon, the sun has just touched with light the outermost fringe of the eastern sky. Once again, beneath this moving sheet of fire, the living surface of the earth wakes and trembles, and once again begins its fearful travail.
I will place upon my alter, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labor.
Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth’s fruits…
“Receive, O Lord, this all-embracing host which your whole creation, moved by your magnetism, offers you at this dawn of a new day…”