Flesh-eating Bodies

Victoria Larson, one of our outstanding students, preached in chapel today, and it was a really fabulous sermon. In honor of our hard-working Greek students, she started with some Greek that gave them hope that there are some interesting discoveries waiting for them as they become more familiar with the language. Did you know that “sarcophagus” actually means “flesh-eater”? Even better, did you know that when Jesus tells his disciples to “eat my flesh,” he is actually exhorting them to become “flesh-eaters”–or, even more accurately, “flesh-masticators”? Pretty cool, right?

 However, the part of her sermon that really stuck with me was when she talked about the worth of our bodies–linking that to the fact that God took on a human body in the incarnation–and our tendency to denegrate them.

 Here’s what she said:

“God becoming flesh is terrible and wonderful enough for our human understanding to cope with, but I think we struggle to grasp God’s incarnation not only because of its mystery, but because our culture thinks so negatively of bodies. This week’s news of Congressman Todd Akin’s horrifying comments about rape brought me back (with a resounding thud) to reality of that struggle.

We are constantly devaluing the experience of being enfleshed. When our bodies are tired, we answer them not with rest, but with caffeine. When our bodies are hurting, we answer them not with patience, but with pushing. When our bodies are aging, we treat them not with respect, but with resentment. And as Congressman Akin demonstrated, when our bodies are violated, our temptation is to respond with mitigating language that delegitimizes the experience of our flesh. We are so reluctant to take our bodies seriously, to treat them as something more than temporary vehicles for our far superior intellects and spirits.
And in doing so, we miss out on the beauty and wonder not only of God’s enfleshing, but of our own. These bodies are a good creation—fallen, yes, imperfect, often, but a blessing nonetheless. We tend to see our bodies’ complaints, like hunger, as weakness, but it is through this weakness that God in Christ reveals Godself to us. “I am the bread of life… The one who eats this bread will live forever.” Our superior intellects may not be able to grasp the full wonder and meaning of God becoming human, but our bodies understand the emptiness of hunger and the satiation of eating good bread. Our minds may not be able to understand exactly how Jesus abides in us and we in Jesus, but our bodies understand how when we eat something, it becomes a part of us. Our flagging spirits may sometimes weaken in their understanding of the Holy Spirit’s daily gifts, but our bodies understand how bread strengthens and sustains at every meal.”

There is wisdom, goodness, and grace in our bodies–God has formed them in love, and united Godself to them in Christ.  We quite literally embody the body of Christ in all sorts of ways, not least when we take Christ himself into our mouths and on our tongues, ingesting him as he commanded, that we might live forever, nourished by his very flesh and blood.

[And, incidentally, if you are looking for a way to make sense of this image with a 21st century pop culture image, try the symbol of the lembas bread in The Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien was not only a genius but a Catholic Christian, and he intended lembas to represent the Eucharist.  As fans know, crumbs of that bread provide sustenance enough for Frodo and Sam to make it all the way to Mordor.]

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