The Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 26, 2023
“God Loves Our Bodies”
Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones, man.
I’m just gonna say it: this passage is pretty weird. It’s a little bit like some old horror movie. You know, the kind where all the special effects are done by stop-motion?
The bones stack on top of each other. The sinews wind up around them. The tendons. The muscles build themselves on, looking like a medical illustration. The skin wraps itself around everything like tissue paper.
This is a weird passage. And so it’s one that lots of people know.
Actually, our readings are all-killer no-filler today, cause the story of Lazarus is like that too. Big cultural impact.
But you know, God could’ve inspired people to write all sorts of things. Why does Ezekiel give us a weird horror movie here?
Well, there’s a lot of reasons. You could preach an awful lot of sermons about this. But there’s one point I want to make today.
God loves our bodies.
When someone first told me that God didn’t hate my body, I was shocked, because there’s a lot of people who say that Christianity hates the body. That’s just what we grow up expecting.
Or maybe we hear a lot of “we’re spiritual beings having a human experience.”
With respect to Teilhard de Chardin, I don’t think that’s quite orthodox Christian teaching. Not if we take it to mean that our essence is our souls. That we’d still be our selves if we detached our souls from our bodies.
That’s not what God says. What God says is: “I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” For God, we can only live in our bodies.
One of my professors at seminary explained it like this. When the church was founded, it was a combination of three elements.
The first element was the Hebrew Bible. And in the Hebrew Bible, it’s really important to know: the physical world is good. When God makes humans, He makes us out of clay, and he sees that our bodies are good things!When God talks about resurrection, He talks about resurrecting whole bodies, not just souls!
And that’s true in the New Testament, too. Remember, Jesus was a rabbi—a very Jewish teacher. He doesn’t bring Lazarus back to life in some spiritual way. Jesus makes Lazarus’s real physical body live again.
But the Jewish element was only the first element that came to create Christianity. The second element was Roman culture. That’s where we get a lot of the things that we do in the liturgy. Many of you probably know that the vestments we wear are basically what people wore in Ancient Rome—just their everyday clothes.
The third element in Christianity was Greek philosophy. That’s where we get the idea that the body might be bad.
Most of you are probably familiar with the story of Plato’s cave. The idea is that everything in this world is just a pale shadow of the real world, the world of ideas. The altar here at St. Ignatius is just the pale shadow of the idea of an altar. That’s where some people started claiming the body was bad, because—they would say—it’s just a pale shadow of our soul.
And there’s a lot of Platonism in Christian theology. But when they discussed this in the early church, they decided that one of the most important things is that God really did become incarnate in Jesus. One of the most fruitful sources of heresies was the idea that Jesus didn’t really become human, with all the human parts.
Which means that our bodies are good things.
And you know what? This news, that God loves our bodies, is good news.
It’s good news because: look around us. Look at the culture we live in.
We’re constantly being told that our bodies aren’t good enough. We need to lose weight. Or gain weight. We need to fix our hair or our skin. If our body isn’t perfect, it’s because there’s something wrong with us. So we’d better go buy something to fix it. Go get a prescription for Ozempic, or steroids, or plastic surgery, or some new shampoo.
And that’s just secular media. If you look at some parts of the church—whoo-ee! People will tell you: your body is the source of sin. Do you need to eat? Watch out for gluttony! Does your body long for intimacy? For a hug? To have sex? Watch out for lust!
The way some people talk about it, it’s like God made a whole mistake giving us bodies at all. And that’s just not Biblical.
What’s Biblical is: God gave us bodies. All different kinds of bodies. Big and small. Tall and short. Every color. Every kind of hair. Every kind of ability.
And when God came down to us, he became incarnate. Enfleshed. God came down among us and he had bones and skin and muscles, he had acne and boogers, he had hormones and sweat, he had genitals and armpits. In becoming flesh, God hallowed every bodily action. And not only that, God promises again and again in the Bible that when He gives us new life, new resurrection life, it’s going to be embodied. Maybe those bodies won’t be exactly like now. But it’s not just a spiritual resurrection.
That’s why, in our worship, we use our bodies. We stand and we sit and we kneel. We smell incense. We sing songs and we hear them. We taste the bread and the wine. We swallow it and it becomes part of our bodies. We worship God with our whole bodies!
There is no room in our religion to hate our bodies. To hate our bodies is to hate our selves, the very selves that God has made.
So I want you to take a second and think about that. I want all of us to take a second and feel our holy bodies.
Take a second and just breathe in and out. Feel your self.
Feel where you’re sitting. Feel where your bones hit the pew. Feel how you’re holding your shoulders. You don’t have to try to relax them. Just notice them.
Just feel yourself from inside yourself.
Where your clothes are pinching. Where you’ve got an itch. Just recognize it. Do you need to go to the bathroom? Do you have a stuffy nose?
What parts of your body do you like most? What parts do you like least? Your body is just as much you as your soul, all those parts.
Now Passiontide has begun.
We’re heading towards Holy Week, the week in which we remember most vividly the way that God was embodied. And we will remember, during Holy Week, how Jesus’s body was broken on the cross for us.
That’s one side of the coin of embodiment: the hurt and the pain.
But part of why it hurts so much is that Christ’s body was a good gift. And our bodies are good gifts too.
So this Passiontide, let’s hold onto that sense of our own selves, our bodies, this precious gift from God. Let’s feel God working in our very bones.
© 2023 Flourish Klink