We Americans have a love-hate relationship with our bodies.
I’m not sure if it’s helpful to cast blame as much as it is to just be honest about our current situation. We spend billions of dollars on products, procedures, and the like to make our physical bodies match the image in our minds of what is beautiful. Our bodies age, and so our eyes don’t quite focus like they used to, or our hair isn’t quite as there as it once was. We tire out more quickly, or our memory starts slipping, or things we used to do easily when we were younger now give us trouble. Never mind the issues we have around food and weight that begin way too early in life. Our relationship with our bodies is complicated.
Add to that the common belief that was handed down to us by Plato that our souls exist forever while our bodies are just a burden for us, something that holds us back. When we begin conversations about the afterlife, we imagine those souls up there in heaven somewhere having a grand time floating around like Casper or some other idea in our heads of a friendly ghost. Those images don’t often include our bodies, the physical actual bodies that we have right now. For many, we can’t wait to be rid of them.
A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Paul wades into some deep theological water this morning, and I’m following him in. I’m doing this because I think we’ve bought in too much to the ideals of our culture and have at best an unhelpful view of the physical world, and at worst a dysfunctional one. But this way is perilous and truly counter-cultural. How we look at and think about our physical bodies as a society can be measured by the covers of the magazines on display in the checkout aisle in any supermarket.
Way back in the beginning when God created, God looked on us both male and female and proclaimed that we were very good in all our physicality. God was pleased and giddy with us, wanting us to go out into the created world and find joy and abundance and peace. God wanted us to have fun! To explore and discover and engage in love with one another. God desired for us to have the wonderful taste of fresh fruits explode in our mouths, and to truly enjoy the created world as an extension of the goodness of God.
And we lost our way. We decided to do things not intended by the love of God, abusing power and harming others and putting ourselves and our desires at the very center. And so we began thinking that somehow the physical world was bad and that the spiritual world was good. That while perhaps God’s creation was intended for good, it became something else entirely.
So God responded by sending Jesus into the world.
I mean of all the ludicrous things to imagine for the author of creation to do, becoming a human wouldn’t be one any of us would have seen coming. Jesus—true God from true God—took on a human body just like us. He experienced cuts and bruises and pimples and bad hair days. He had foods he liked and others he spit out. He felt the emotions of love when his heart began pounding in his chest, and those of disappointment when something didn’t go his way. He got smelly feet and laughed at a good joke and was strengthened by the touch of comfort from a friend. Perhaps we could imagine this happening for just a short time and then having him put all of that behind like an experiment of seeing how the other side lives. But that’s not what happened. This wasn’t just a one off. Jesus came to us in the flesh—theologians call it “the incarnation”—and lived for a number of years showing us the way of God. Because of his teachings and works, he was put to death. And after three days, he rose again in flesh and blood.
And while it’s a different sort of body now—he can get into locked rooms, which frankly is a handy skill—it’s still the body he had from his birth. In his first appearances after the resurrection, he shows his disciples the scars of his hands and his side, which haven’t gone away. It’s still him. He eats some food in front of them. He’s not a ghost.
The people assembling in the Corinthian church can buy that, they just don’t think they’ll be joining Jesus. They think that this life is it; that there’ll be nothing beyond it. And so Paul tells them emphatically, “Look! If you say that there’s no resurrection for you or the people around you, then Jesus himself was not raised either. The two go hand in hand. Either we believe in the resurrection of the body beginning with Jesus and including us and those we love, or else none of it is true. And if that’s the case, then we should be most pitied.” Paul then emphatically states, “But Christ has been raised and is the first in a line of those who will be resurrected.” We are not to be pitied at all, for Jesus has been raised just as he said. And we will be too!
Which brings us back to the bodies we’re sitting in right now. The ones with the moles and the scar from that time we were playing at our cousin’s house when we were young. There are those stretch marks and that ingrown toenail and those emotions that well up inside of us when we hear that song. There’s that eyebrow hair that won’t cooperate and our inordinate love for coffee (okay, my inordinate love for coffee). There’s the joy of seeing that one we cherish after a long trip, and it’s all good in the eyes of God. You—just as you are—are very good by God’s thinking. Not the you when you lose twenty pounds, or the you when you get your house organized. Not the you that you imagine from high school when you could run a mile way faster than today, or the you with significantly less gray. God looks at you right here and right now and says, “I like what I see! No, no, scratch that: I love what I see. You are a sight to behold!”
You, right here, right now, the complete physical you, are a wonder.
And God thinks so much about this me right here and now, that God plans to resurrect it—me!—on that great day of the Lord. God will take this body of mine and work something glorious—like a flower coming forth from just a seed, Paul says—and bring me into that new heaven and new earth. God doesn’t buy our theology that claims it’s all about the soul and that the body somehow isn’t good. God turns that notion upside down and says, “Nah, I think it’s pretty awesome. I’m gonna take the physical and make it the central feature of my kingdom. It’s going to be just like this world, but uncomprehendingly more beautiful and glorious. You’ve not seen anything yet!” We have that to look forward to both for us and for those loved ones who have died.
But it’s not just the kingdom to come that we can look forward to. God takes our doubts, fears and dislike of the physical now, and gives us an incarnational way of believing. An incarnational faith. That the things that are embodied here in this earth aren’t bad at all, but very, very good. That the physical in all its wonder and glory cannot be easily dismissed.
Which can lead us to some pretty radical actions. We can care for the physical needs of our neighbors—both in our neck of the woods and further afield. We can address things like food insecurity and being unhoused when we have abundant resources to eradicate both. We can work to keep this natural world beautiful well cared for. When we realize how our physical world is central to God’s way of thinking, we will live in a way that prioritizes that material world more fully as we look with anticipation for the resurrection of all creation.
How we live and act in our world and toward our neighbors and how we think about and act about our own bodies is of vital importance to God. The beliefs of our culture that our bodies are a hardship can lead our thinking to become disordered. But if we hold onto the hope of the resurrection of the dead, our way of interacting with others and ourselves can be healed and renewed. God looks at us and is overjoyed by the splendor of us. God looks at our neighbor and thinks the same. God sees our physical world—the world of God’s own handiwork—and knows that there is beauty and amazement oozing out of every nook and cranny. God doesn’t intend to obliterate it —or us—at the end of the age. God will take all that has been created and breathe new life into it and, in so doing, it will far exceed anything we can ever imagine. May we get just a glimpse of that hope in our own lives in order that we might truly believe in the power of the resurrection and what that can do to change how we think about ourselves. And may we trust that until that time—until the day of Christ’s return—that all those who have died before us will remain in God’s presence and care.