Advent 2 2014
2 Peter 3
Waiting for the redemption of our bodies
As you can’t fail to have noticed this morning, we are celebrating ‘the best Good News since 1814’ – which raises to questions, one general one – what IS the Good News?? If a friend asked you, What is that sign on the Church drive all about? What would you say?? And secondly – waht is Anything does the Good News have to do with our bodies???
I was recently reading an article by a man who had lived through the 1930s in England. His family had been coal miners and to say his existence was harsh would be putting it fairly but perhaps also mildly. Children all sharing the same bed – a lavatory outside the house shared with several other families – poor and sometimes non-existent food – and of course disease, taking children in infancy and leading to life expentancies much much shorter than those we have come to take for granted.
When we consider the collapse of participation in the life of the church, particularly since the 1960s, one factor that I rarely hear mention of is how comfortable our lives are nowadays. After all, IF the big theological problem is ‘Why does an all loving God permit suffering?’ surely when we suffer far far far less than even our parents generations – and we do – then church should be packed with folk giving thanks to God? Surely??
And of course church has itself become less demanding and more comfortable, as well . . . and herein might be part of the issue. Back in England many many churches went through the business of ‘re-ordering the church’, at least when financial circumstances were better. By and large that meant making the building more ‘comfortable’. The installation of better heating and of course that perennial bane of a Vicar’s life – the removal of pews to be replaced with ‘comfortable’ chairs . . . but of course does not Isaiah 40 verse 1 say ‘Comfort ye, O Comfort ye my people . . .’ 🙂
Not long before coming here I chaired a Diocesan committee which had both the Archdeacons on it. One evening we met at one of their houses, and as the second Archdeacon came into the room he said to his colleague ‘Ah! that must be your prayer chair!!’ He was pointing at one of these.
And he was right! How did he know?? Except for the assumption that one must be comfortable to pray . . . Imagine being sat on that or indeed your own favourite comfortable chair – losing all sense of your body, its aches and pains – almost for a moment leaving the material realm and entering into the pure realm of the Spirit . . .
This turn is one of the most ancient heresies of the Church that of Gnosticism, a retreat into the realm of pure Spirit – the denial of our bodies. Which is fundamentally a denial of the heart of our faith. Our bodies are the very realm of our Life as Christians. And as we shall see the Heart of the Good News.
This Gnostic turn is seen in what happens when we pray – together as a body. When I was young it was unthinkable that one might not kneel to pray. In other words without naming it – we were bringing all of who we were before God, and in material terms almost all of who we are is our bodies. Kneeling is of course very Anglican – Other traditions stand to pray. Again very physical and perhaps more demanding. Until very very recently, not to adopt some bodily posture in prayer would be thought most odd. Why leave so much of yourself behind when you pray?
Our Faith is at its heart Embodied. Physical and Spiritual irrevocably woven together – put another way, it is Sacramental. And thus it cannot be disembodied. Only those who think that there are two realms, one of the Spirit an one of the body could imagine otherwise. Our bodies matter – they are the Realm of the working out of our salvation – as St Paul reminds us ‘‘do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.’ What we do with our bodies is of ultimate significance. they are no mere shells for our ‘selves’ We are our bodies, perhaps more than we are minds in that we might lose our minds yet still live, yet we have no life apart from our bodies
Thus the central outworking of our faith – Worship and Prayer must fully involve the body for us to be present – we eat bread – we drink wine – we are baptised by our bodies being immersed in water – we annoint the body with oil after baptism, for healing and in preparation for death. We stand we kneel, we turn to face the Gospel – for in this Jesus is speaking – As we enter the Holy of Holies at the Eucharist we change our dress. We HEAR the word with our ears, we respond in speech with our mouths – we SING and action which brings so much more of us bodily into the picture – the body resonates literally with the praise of God. We confess our sins OUT LOUD. This too is why marriage is a Sacrement, because it is Known in the BOdy, the two become one flesh
One of the disciplines of faith I have been teaching our Baptism class has been to read the Bible out Loud even when you are alone. One of the marks of our disembodied existance has been ‘reading in your head’ . St Augistine once found the Saintly Bishop Ambrose ‘reading without moving his lips’ and thought it so odd that he mentioned it in his writings and tried to explain this Strange behaviour. But as anyone who has ever read out loud and paid attention will note – it is a very different practise. the words are embodied they resnote – all of who we are in involved rather than the very very limited part of our neural pathways involved in reading in our head – ie to read in your head is barely to read at all – indeed such practices as research shows largely shut us down. In this increasingly virtual, unreal world there is a very real sense in which we need to get out of our heads in worship. Not in the Gnostic sense of contemporary charismatic worship wherein people are enjoined to lose sense of their bodies – this is no different to praying in the comfy chair. no we get out of our heads to get our faith into our bodies.
Today as we move through Advent in this the bicentennial year of the announcement of the Good News in these lands we remember Samuel Marsden. Here on Friday, the children from Kaikorai School re-enacted that story as a means of telling the story of Christ’s birth amongst us. Earlier this year with the other members of General Synod I was privileged to visit Oihi Bay. What struck me forcibly was the sense of exposure – of the harshness of what life must have been like for Marsden and his family. Few if any of us know what it is to live in dependence of the hospitality of others. Imagine literally coming ashore in acute dependence for your physical needs, your bodily need for safety, your bodily need for shelter, your bodily need for food and water. As we have lost sense of these needs, so our apprehension of who we are has shrivelled to a point where for all we say the Self is writ large in contemporary society, we have in effect made ourselves disappear, and where is The Good News in that? Perhaps in no small part we have lost any sense of our faith, of what the Good News is, precisely because of this bodily denial?
So John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
The people left the comfort of home to meet this strange figure in the wilderness and to be immersed in the water of the baptism of repentance
one cannot help but be struck by the sheer physicality of john the Baptist. There he is in the wilderness, the place always of God’s salvation, the place of physical dependence upon God, the place where the LORD provdes the manna, the daily bread. And dressed in what he could find – camels hair – perhaps an echoe of those skins that the LORD provided for our first parents, Adam and Eve. Living on a diet of what he could forage . . .
Mark wastes no time in announcing the content of the Good News. Mark Chpater 1 and verse 1 – The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Good News comes to us in a body, that of Jesus. The eternal word of God of which Isaiah spoke becomes FLESH. Born in humility, having family, having nowhere to lay his head, being hungry and thirsty, whipped and scourged, brutally nailed through sinew and bone to a rough wooden cross – the Sphere of our Salvation hope is indisputably the body of Jesus. As St Paul puts it when he is asked what is the message he preaches, ‘it is Jesus Christ and him crucified . . .’ The Good News is known in a body, and in that body God in Christ reconciles the world to himself. And through faith, God raises Jesus from the dead, not as a ‘spirit’ but as a living breathing, fish eating, walking talking living breathing human.
Both Isaiah and Peter speak of the transitory nature of our lives – But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. The physicality of our lives laid bare
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever. And therein lies our Great Hope – for all the frailty of our bodies, our great hope is that in the eternal Word bodily raised from the dead, we too are raised. That Christ’s triumph over death was no mere ‘vague ongoing existence’ as so many of the comfortable ‘modern’ Christians would like to think. That beyond the vagaries of mere beliefs, even our bodies are caught up in the Salvation purposes of God. So we prepare by Worshipping in our bodies, by Praying in our bodies, by fasting in our bodies, by baptising bodily,
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God . . . the word rendered comfort means better Strengthen!! Get ready – prepare yourself, body and soul for the coming of the one who Saves us, Soul and Body