St. Thomas, Easter, and Bodies.

March 30, 2008 at 1:51 am 10 comments

[deleted blatant affirmation-seeking paragraph, with thanks to those who gave it]

Easter II, or the 2nd Sunday of Easter, or “Low Sunday” is when Churches (that follow the Revised Common Lectionary, anyway) remember the post-Resurrection exchange between Jesus and Thomas. This story is the origin of a nickname that has always seemed unfair to such a faithful disciple- the first to proclaim Jesus as “My Lord, and my God!”

Easter II is also, by the church calendar, Ruth’s baptismal feast- although two years ago it fell on a much warmer day late in April. Darling girl, although you may never read this, and you won’t be there tomorrow (err… today) when I stand up in your Church and say it, I wrote it for you.

And perhaps Pontius Pilate isn’t the greatest role model for the Easter Season, but, “what I have written, I have written”.

I watched a pretty amazing video this week, featuring Neuro-anatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, describing a view of the human brain that few brain scientists ever get to witness, or share: watching the deterioration of her own brain function while she was in the process of having a stroke.

In speaking about her experience, she teaches about the human brain, and its amazing, beautiful design- two hemispheres that process information in entirely different ways, and as she says, care about different things, and have different personalities.

And I found it interesting, in part, because this Harvard-trained brain anatomist gives a rational, scientific, biological explanation for what people of faith have known for years.

Quoting from a transcript of her talk:
“Our right hemisphere is all about this present moment. It’s all about right here right now. Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems. And then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like. What this present moment smells like and tastes like, what it feels like and what it sounds like… We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, all we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect. We are whole. And we are beautiful.

The left hemisphere is a very different place. Our left hemisphere thinks linearly and methodically. Our left hemisphere is all about the past, and it’s all about the future. Our left hemisphere is designed to take that enormous collage of the present moment. And start picking details and more details and more details about those details. It then categorizes and organizes all that information. Associates it with everything in the past we’ve ever learned and projects into the future all of our possibilities. And our left hemisphere thinks in language. It’s that ongoing brain chatter that connects me and my internal world to my external world. It’s that little voice that says to me, “Hey, you gotta remember to pick up bananas on your way home, you need’em in the morning.” It’s that calculating intelligence that reminds me when I have to do my laundry. But perhaps most important, it’s that little voice that says to me, “I am. I am.” And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me “I am,” I become separate. I become a single solid individual separate from the energy flow around me and separate from you.”

I seemed to me like Harvard is a bit behind. People of faith have always known this separation, this divide. The great mystics have always had this ability to, as she describes it, “step to the right of their left hemisphere”, and as faith describes it, experience profound connectedness, energy, peace, or unity with creation, and with the creator.

We struggle sometimes, I think, with the division we have inherited from our Greek ancestors. In the time and the place that our New Testament was written, there was no such thing as neuro anatomy. There was a clear division, instead, between the things of the body and the things of the spirit.

And so we inherit this Greek division in passages such as Romans 8: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

This divide places our ongoing Easter celebration into the realm of the Spirit. This is the work of God, a triumph of life over death, this is joy itself, and life, and peace. In today’s passage from John, this is breath- the breath of life- and the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit. Spirit stuff.

Until Thomas returns. And Thomas, not having been there when Jesus breathed on the other 10, wasn’t interested in spiritual matters.

Thomas, who was called the twin, and (one might assume) familiar with the idea of mistaken identity, wasn’t interested in breath. Thomas has his mind firmly set on the body. “When I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will believe”.

Blessed Thomas. Thanks be to God for Thomas, who was the first to see, and to follow the path to the cross before Lazarus was raised from the dead, who was the first to declare, “my Lord, and my God”. Who took the Good News of Christ to India.

Blessed Thomas, whose story reminds us that this faith of ours is not a solely spiritual matter.

Christians, in general, are far more likely to talk about “incarnation” at Christmas. Christmas is a very body-oriented feast.
But even then, with their strange shower gifts, the wise men point to the spiritual nature of this birth. So it is only fitting that at Easter, another voice should point back to the very carnal- bodied- nature of this Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.

Jesus had a human body- with all its lumps, wrinkles, weakness and funny dangly bits. His human body, and its mortality, was what made it possible for Jesus to be crucified, to die, and to open for us all the way to eternal life. This body was not a coat that Jesus put on over top of his true, Divine self in order to take it off at Golgotha. Jesus lived and died as one of us. And that human body, changed somehow so that Mary did not recognize him, stood before his disciples in a locked room and said, “Peace be with you”. And those human lungs breathed upon the disciples. And those human hands, and their scars, stood before Thomas and said, “put your finger here… and believe”

In life and in resurrection, Jesus was an incarnate, embodied, fleshy human being.

As we are.

On Ash Wednesday we mark the central fact of human existence: we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

These bodies are where we, in the words of the collect, “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the words of scripture.

These are the bodies whose feet are beautiful when they bring good news, and on whose heads even the hairs are counted.

These are the bodies that Jesus meant when he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.

These are the bodies that Jesus left here to get things done, when, 40 days after the resurrection, he ascended into heaven.

And yet, so many of us are unhappy in the bodies we inhabit. If only these bodies were thinner, or curvier. Taller, or shorter. If only it had more hair, or less. If only these bodies were were younger, or more able. If only…

If only this base, carnal, unimportant earthly part of me were different, then I could get on with the Spiritual things that really matter.

“Put your fingers here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe”.

These bodies carry the genetic legacy of our ancestors. They bear the scars of things that have happened to us, or of choices we have made. They bear the mark, invisible but not, we hope, imperceptible, of the moment when they were bathed in water, marked with the cross, and claimed as God’s own forever. These bodies consume and integrate the bread and the wine that is, for us, the body and blood of Jesus.

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

These bodies are where heart, and soul, and mind, and strength meet and dwell.
“And here we offer and present onto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies as a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee.”

These are the hands that Jesus sends in to the world, to act with justice.

These are the lips that Jesus sends in to the world, to proclaim Good News.

These are the heads that Jesus sends into the world, every hair counted, to bow in prayer.

I am. You Are.
Yes, we are united in one great Spiritual union, with the whole communion of saints, joining our voices with an unending chorus across all space and all time: “Holy, holy holy!”. But that is not all we are. And each of us makes a unique offering of our whole self, when we offer all that we are in service to God.

You are you, inside that body- that body that is aware of how long you’ve been sitting in an uncomfortable pew, and how long it’s been since breakfast, and that you never seem to get to wear your most comfortable clothes to Church… that body, whatever its shape, its size, its age. Whatever the things it can’t do- that is the body that Jesus breathes upon- that Jesus enters in this Eucharist- that Jesus sends out into the world.

And in that body of yours, you are beautiful.
Thanks be to God. Amen. Alleluia.

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Puzzling it Out Quick Hit on Isaiah

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pet~  |  March 30, 2008 at 2:59 am

    I absolutely love this sermon. I hope you *do* get up the nerve to preach *this* sermon tomorrow. And I wish I could be there to hear you preach it.

    Pet~

  • 2. LeeMo  |  March 30, 2008 at 3:20 am

    It’s truly beautiful.

  • 3. Gretchen  |  March 30, 2008 at 4:10 am

    Oh, please preach this.

    You preach (or at least, write sermons) like my mom. And that’s the highest complement I can give to any preacher.

  • 4. Kathleen  |  March 30, 2008 at 4:20 am

    Oh, wow. That’s just… beautiful. I, too, hope you get up the nerve to preach this, because there are *so* many people out there who need to hear it.

  • 5. Alison  |  March 30, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    Absolutely beautiful! I hope you went ahead and preached it. I’d have been beside myself with joy if I’d heard that sermon yesterday (it being Monday in New Zealand).

    I greatly enjoy your blog – I’ve been lurking here from time to time for a few weeks now.

  • 6. wellroundedtype2  |  March 30, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    I’m Jewish, so I’m not as familiar with christian theology, but I love this sermon. I would love to take a course in theological perspectives on the body. I just read Annie Lamott’s “Grace (Eventually)” where she talks a little about this and also found it fascinating, but your perspective is so compassionate and full of love.
    I wrote a little bit about a Jewish theological perspecive of beauty (I’m no expert, just an everyday, practicing Reconstructionist Jew) that strikes a balance between the ephemeral and the perserverance of life — and that’s where I am most of the time. But I could certainly benefit from more textual study (for me, the “old testament” and commentaries).

  • 7. mrs.millur  |  March 30, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Thanks, WRT2. I would be interested in theological perspectives on the body, myself. Sadly I’m lazy, and generally only challenge myself with heavy reading when its coursework. But I never know when the mood will strike to go back to school. (If you never stop going, you never have to pay back the student loans).

    To everyone who said ‘do it!’, Thanks, I needed that, and I did. And it was anxiety-producing, as it always is. A lot of people asked about the link to the video, a few had already seen it. I was not (openly) denounced as a heretic. Yet. 😉

  • 8. HeyJules  |  March 30, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    What’s the icon for “Gives a Standing Ovation?”

  • 9. Pet~  |  March 31, 2008 at 2:23 am

    :::::standing O:::::

    I’m so glad you preached this sermon! And I still wish I could have been there to hear it. 🙂

  • 10. Gretchen  |  April 1, 2008 at 5:02 am

    My opinion on preaching is that if nobody denounces you as a heretic, you’re not doing it right.

    … if everybody denounces you as a heretic, you might need some prayerful consideration, but you’re probably just about there 😉

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