Heavenly Bodies: Christ’s & Our Own

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Community Eucharist

The written version of the sermon is here:

St. Francis, the 12th century holy man and preacher, who confounded people in his day and in ours, had a difficult relationship with his own body. Like many religious, for most of his life, he privileged the life of the spirit—a relationship with God, a deep and steady prayer life, outreach and compassion with the poor, and in fact an identity with the poor—he valued that life over the tedious, boring, day-to-day maintenance of his own body. In fact, as St. Francis referred to all of creation as a sister or brother, he referred to his body as Brother Ass.  Brother Ass was like a mule or a donkey—necessary for getting work done, but stubborn, burdensome, and sometimes with a will of its own. The body, Brother Ass, for St. Francis, was to be endured.

Some think that when Francis was young and held as a prisoner of war for a time, he must have contracted malaria, which returned from time to time throughout his life. He had stomach problems and may have had an ulcer. He had eye problems that were given painful treatments that didn’t help. Add to this that Francis pushed himself, and was often emotionally isolated from the very community he had inspired.

One day, later in life, Francis was fussing about his body, Brother Ass. He asked a brother what he should do, and the young brother helped Francis see that Francis offered kindness, compassion, and mercy to all of creation, EXCEPT for his own body.  And yet, that body had given him the means to be of use to Christ in the first place. Shouldn’t he show his own body a little compassion? Francis heard these words as straight from God, so said to himself, “Cheer up Brother Body, and forgive me; for I will now gladly do as you please, and gladly hurry to relieve your complaints!”   (The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, Ch. 160, FA:ED, Vol 2, p. 383.)

We give thanks for the Resurrection of the Body of Christ, and that means that we also should give thanks for the existence of our own bodies.

In the first reading we heard this morning, from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter has just healed beggar who was disabled. But the people want to try to understand it, justify it, or explain it.  To them, Peter says, “Here is life renewed.” “Faith in [the name of Jesus Christ] his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.” The healing power of the resurrection has found a home in this man, now able to walk around and praise God.

In the Gospel from Luke, Jesus again appears to his disciples. He breathes on them and they receive the Holy Spirit, but when the disciples seem baffled by all of this, Jesus brings them back to earth by asking for food. As if to prove that he is more than a ghost or a spirit, Jesus is hungry and wants to eat with them. And so they eat fish right there. Jesus then explains that they are witnesses to all that Jesus has done and said, and are meant to carry on this work of healing and forgiving and renewing people in the love of God out of Jerusalem into the whole world. And they will be doing this with their bodies.

Some years when I reflect on this Gospel of Luke, I like to talk about how the Holy Spirit is given in this passage and how that works alongside the Spirit’s movement on Pentecost.  But this year, I hear the Spirit reminding me that Jesus took his body seriously, and we take ours seriously, as well.

One might think that during a pandemic, we would be hyper-focused on our bodies and doing all we can to avoid getting a virus.  But as we joke about the Covid-15 a lot of us have put on (the extra pounds through stress eating and worry and lack of movement), a lot of us spend increasing amounts of time interacting with people through screens.  Though we are communicating more than ever (and that has blessings) we should never lose sight that we are embodied and Christianity is an embodies faith.

Our eating and drinking together, our shaking hands and hugging—we have missed and we mourn. But let’s not pretend they’re not coming back. Of course they are. We can say things in silent proximity that are simply impossible to convey through a screen, an email, or a phone call. These are good substitutions when we can’t be together, but let’s never forget that they are substitutions.

At every celebration of the Holy Eucharist, we remember how Jesus shared a meal with his disciples and transformed that meal by saying that in the blessing, the breaking, and the sharing, he was also sharing his body and blood with them. In Holy Communion, we share in Christ’s Body and Blood, and gain a bit of that Resurrection Spirit into our bodies.

Jesus healed and brought new life into the bodies around him.
St. Francis eventually came to show compassion to his body.
And we, too, are called to be good stewards of the bodies God has given us.

The point of this sermon is not that anyone would feel guilty about mistreating their body or feel shamed in any way.  But I hear God’s Spirit calling us to remember that we are given these miraculous bodies to learn from and to live with. How might we show compassion to ourselves? How might we take better care and be better stewards?  How might we invite God’s healing and helping power to make us stronger and more faithful?

The Collect of the Day invites reminds us of how the disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread. May our eyes be opened, as well, so that we might behold the risen Lord and allow him to redeem our bodies, minds, and souls.  Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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