Sunday, 22 June 2014

Corpus Christi 2014: whose body is it anyway?

This is my body. 

This is my teddy bear - it belongs to me, and I'll do what I want with it. If I want to tear off its head or shave it or dye it purple, that's what I'll do, and it's none of your business. 

This is my body. 

This is my country - I belong to it, I am a part of it and it is a part of me. I'll fight and die for it if I have to, I'll give myself up to serve it.

This is my body.

This is my body, and I'll do what I want with it, it's none of your business? Or this is my body, I am a part of it, it is a part of me? This is my body, all for me, or this is my body, given for you?

When we call someone "God's gift," we don't usually mean it as a compliment. But you are God's gift: all of you. I mean, every part of you, soul and body. You are gift; in fact, you are *given* by God, body and soul. It doesn't make any sense for us to separate them, to talk about "my body" or "my soul," because there's no such thing as you without your body, no such thing as you without your soul. They are a part of you and you are a part of them. They don't belong to you, you belong to them, and they belong to God, a gift given for the world. 

There are religions which separate body and soul very firmly, but Christianity is not one of them. We worship, after all, God Incarnate, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ who is 100% God and 100% human. You can't take the two apart. We teach, though it's hard to understand what we mean by it, that there will be some sort of bodily resurrection, just as Jesus was resurrected not just as some sort of disembodied ghost, but as a man with a body, a man who ate and drank with His disciples, those times when He appeared to them around the table or the campfire by the sea. A resurrected man with a physical body who ate physical food, took in physical nourishment. 

But the Risen Lord did not just eat by Himself. He invited the world to join Him. If I asked you what some of His most moving words were, I'm sure you'd come up with all sorts of examples, but for me, those four words written in John 21:12 take some beating, which perhaps tells you something about me: Jesus says, "come and have breakfast." And of course, it's not the first invitation of this sort He's made. "Take, eat. This is my body. This is my body, given for you." 

And so that's what we do, every Sunday or, better, more often still. Why? Well, partly, I think, just because Jesus tells us to. The beginning of the Christian life is a matter of humbly doing what God tells us. First submitting in faith, and then, gradually, over a lifetime learning the reasons why. You see, our true nourishment - beyond just the physical, our spiritual nourishment - is to do the will of God. "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven ... give us this day our daily bread." God's will is our daily bread; and God's will is to take and eat this bread, the bread of life, the very body of Christ born in a stable in Bethlehem - that is, Beth Lechem, "the House of Bread." We take and eat because He tells us to. 

But why does He tell us to? I think it's a fair and fruitful question to ask, but only once we've taken on the discipline of obeying, taking and eating. There are other questions which are perhaps less fruitful, questions like how, exactly, the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ, questions which risk presuming to solve something God gave us as a mystery, and so with their narrow answers stifle the Spirit. But to ask why He wants us to do this, on the other hand, can open up a lifelong gastronomic quest, like spending time learning how to appreciate fine wines, but better still, because we are refining our taste for the nourishment of the spirit. So let's ask that question: Why does God want us to take and eat His body? 

There are so many answers, a lifetime's worth and more. But if I were to pick just one, for now, I'd say it has something to do with that old wives' maxim, "you are what you eat." God's will is meant to be our food and drink, and God's will is love, the self-giving, self-sacrificial love that we know in the Cross and in Jesus' invitation to eat His body, "given for you." We are meant to feast on that love, to feast on God Himself; but I am not sure what a plateful of love would look like. You'd certainly get some odd looks if you tried to order it at a restaurant, even one of Heston Blumenthal's. We can't eat love. We're physical beings. We need physical food. 

But remember - our bodies and our souls are not separate. They are part of one whole, they are together what makes you or me. And so God gives us spiritual food in physical food. God gives us His Spirit of love in digestible form in the Sacrament, so that we can eat His flesh and drink His blood, "that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us." You are what you eat, or to use more biblical words, from St Paul, we must decrease that He might increase, so that it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us. My body must become His Body, given in love for the salvation of the world. 

At the altar today, let Christ give Himself through you. Take, eat, drink, and let His Holy Spirit nourish you to make you, to make us, what we already are: the Body of Christ, gathered together as the wheat from the fields and the grapes from the vine, one body, one blood, one Church, one Kingdom. We belong to it as much as it belongs to us. 

This is my body. 

This is our body. 

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