The Rev. Joseph Farnes
All Saints, Boise
March 26, 2023
Throughout history, the assumption has often been that Christianity does not like the body very much, that being a spiritual person meant subduing and conquering the body and its desires. To be a moral and spiritually upright person meant keeping the body in check. It was a battle of wills – the will of the spirit vs the will of the flesh, to use a phrase from St Paul. If you were deeply spiritual and righteous, you’d have perfect control over your body. To be able to fast and to abstain from pleasures showed how truly spiritual you were.
Of course, that means that that kind of spirituality would look at someone with my kind of body and make all sorts of judgments. The judgment would be that I must not have deep spiritual roots because, if I did, wouldn’t I look thinner? That I must lack self-control? If I were truly spiritual, I’d do whatever it took to subdue my body and make it look a certain way.
It’s not just some forms of spirituality that would make that judgment. Popular culture is awfully hostile to the body, too. Be thin, be muscular, eat this, don’t eat that, do this kind of exercise. We’re told that our bodies are wrong, and that therefore we’re wrong for not making them look a certain way.
So there’s a lot of hostility toward the body, spiritually and culturally, and by their logic, if our bodies don’t measure up to a certain standard, then clearly we’re defective.
And today’s reading from Romans takes on that tone, if we read the word“flesh” that way. Flesh isn’t synonymous with the body. The flesh is the created stuff that keeps us down, keeps us enslaved. The reality is that the spiritual and cultural messages we’ve received that denigrate the body are, in fact, expression of the very “flesh” that St Paul is against! Those hostile messages about our bodies do not help our bodies or our spirits to do what is good and right.
This kind of hostility toward the body does not help anyone. It splits the body apart from us and makes our body into an enemy. Our bodies are not our enemy! They are amazing at what they can do. My body’s very efficient at storing extra calories – my body is the epitome of planning for the future! I swear it’s got a stash of Easter candy calories from 20 years ago hidden in here somewhere. That’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?
Our bodies keep going through all sorts of adversities and just keep going! Our bodies are something to celebrate.
And we celebrate them even when something happens to them. Sometimes a limitation pops up – maybe we can’t move as fast as we used to, or we have to get new glasses, or maybe we have more wrinkles and grey hair, or maybe we have a disability or condition that changes how we move or speak. We are not defective because of those things. Our bodies do their best with what they have. Our bodies are not the enemy, and we are not failures because of our bodies.
The body is not an add-on to our existence. Our bodies are not mere vessels for a soul. Our bodies and souls both bear sacredness. Christianity affirms alongside our Jewish and Muslim siblings that the body is a good thing.
We proclaim in the Nicene Creed that we believe in the “resurrection of the dead.” In the Apostles’ Creed, we say even more boldly, “The resurrection of the body.” It’s not “resurrection of the soul.” It’s “resurrection of the body.”
And thus our readings today bring our attention to our bodies. Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones that we read today (and will read again at the Easter Vigil) becomes a potent reminder that physical life, the body, the lives we live, are also important to God. Bodily life is also sacred. God created it! Salvation involves our bodies.
And so Jesus raises Lazarus to show the power of his life. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus’ life gives us life. Lazarus is raised – not in the fullness of the resurrection, but restored to life. Lazarus is alive, to be with his sisters and friends once again. These are good things.
Any person grieving would tell you that. Even though we grow to accept that our loved one is dead, we still long for them to be with us. Their morning breath, or their weird laugh, or the way they chew their food – all of those physical things would bring us joy. Their memory is a blessing, but we want more. We want embodied life.
Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead – for Lazarus to share his embodied life with those he loves. Lazarus is not a mere prop; Jesus doesn’t use people as props or photo ops! Lazarus is not just to be the object of a miracle.
Lazarus raised to life, body and soul, is a good thing. It is a gift: to Lazarus, to his sisters, to his friends. But Lazarus will die again, though the Bible does not say how or when. Our hope for our bodies and spirits is more than just coming back to life like we know it. It’s something more.
The resurrection of the body is about so, so much more. The resurrection of the body is this beautiful mystery – our bodies and spirits so filled with divine life, raised to glory, an eternal sharing in Christ’s own resurrection and life forevermore.
What will that look like?
We know very little, probably because God wants us to live in the hope of the resurrection now, to treasure our lives now, to work for justice and peace now.
I hope I’m not spoiling it, but next week we’ll read how Jesus is crucified, died, and buried. And then we’ll read the following week how he is resurrected – not just restored to life as if nothing happen, but resurrected. Something more.
And in his resurrection, he bears his crucifixion wounds. His body is not made perfect as in all the old wounds disappear; his body is made perfect as in it is brought to fulfillment and glory in God.
In the resurrection, I don’t know what I’ll look like. I might have all this grey hair I’ve slowly developed over time. I probably won’t have a trim, muscular body in the resurrection – it’ll probably look like what I do now, but it will absolutely share in the glorious goodness of God. Your body – it is good. Your soul – that, too, is made in the image of the goodness of God. Let us treasure and celebrate these holy gifts of life, and await with hope the glory that shall be revealed. Amen.