The Rev. Carolyn Metzler, January 14, 2018

In the name of the One who is our Journey and our Journey’s End.

 

Three  years ago yesterday, my Mother died very suddenly.  She probably threw a blood clot.  There is a stunning, mind-boggling, mysterious story that goes with it which I wish I had time to tell here.   When I held her lifeless body I knew that her body was my first body’s home.

 

Our Psalm today is a psalm about the body; the wonder of being created in these bodies:

 

 “For you yourself created my inmost parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb; My body was not hidden from you while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth; Your eyes beheld my limbs unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day when as yet there were none of them…”  

 

Oh, how I love this Psalm!  Christianity, as it was originally formed, is not a body-denying religion, though the church has done its best to make it such.  How could we be body-denying when our own Lord took this same human body, birthed with our birth, lived more than thirty years in our skin, died as we die, whose body was held by others as I held the lifeless body of my mother?  People throughout history who, in the name of sanctity, abused their bodies to try to win holiness points miss the point completely.  Bodies are “fearfully and wonderfully made!”  The epistle for today left me cold for many years, but as I am growing to love Paul, I hear this differently now.  He is also talking about honoring the body; not using it in ways that do not cherish or respect it.  “For you are not your own,” says Paul, in that shocking line.  “You were brought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.”  Even when things go wrong, our bodies are still wondrous and sacred, no matter what they look like.  Even when things fall apart, go wrong, develop arthritis, cancer, diabetes or heart disease, our bodies still reach for life.

 

Do not take your bodies for granted, Paul says, or use them cheaply because they are the very temples of the Holy Spirit.  In his newish book on St. Paul, N.T. Wright makes the stunning claim that the core of the New Testament is that we in our bodies are the new temple.  After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Temple of of Holy. took human flesh.  We celebrate this at Christmas: INCARNATION.  The Word made flesh!  Our bodies are the means by which we serve God.  When I baptize someone I also use the oil of chrism to anoint each of their senses—eyes, ears, nose, lips, hands, for the service of God who gave us these bodies in the first place.

 

The story of the call of Philip and Nathaniel brings another nuance to this, the reminder that our bodies are the vehicle for following Christ, at least as long as we walk the earth.  Our bodies are the means by which we live out our call to discipleship.   So if we are God’s body, then there is a profound connection between our physical body, God’s mystical body, Christ’s Eucharistic body, the bodies of our brothers and sisters all over the world, and the body of the Earth.  “As you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to ME,” Jesus begs us to understand.  How we respond to refugees, to the homeless, to people of other faiths, other inclinations, other political parties, is how we respond to Christ himself.  How we treat them is how we treat Christ.  How we speak of them is how we speak of Christ.  God’s Body is so much bigger, so much more universal than we have any idea.  Our baptismal vows are to be lived out in these very bodies, in direct service to Christ in the bodies of all created beings.  Do you know that?  Do you live into that profound connection between yourself and all people because Christ was made flesh and dwelt among us?

 

When I meet with people in the ancient discipline of spiritual direction I am often overwhelmed by the utter beauty before me and I want to prostrate myself at their feet in reverence of this exquisite human being who is often so blind to his or her own perfection.  Sometimes I interrupt them – “Oh, do you know how beautiful you are?” I ask.  I feel I am at the Transfiguration and Christ before me radiates holiness in his body.  It takes my breath away.

Today I want to say something about my experience here among you and the privilege of serving the Holy One among you as priest.  When I celebrate Eucharist, I inhabit two functions at the same time.  The first is that of being the “Chief Liturgical Officer” (although the Vergers probably think that’s their role!).  I need to pay attention to the flow of the liturgy, make sure I put wine in the chalice (I forgot once!), say the Lord’s prayer (I forgot once!), and stay out of the way of the community’s worship.  When I don’t pay attention, the liturgy stumbles.  Those of you whose were here Christmas Eve at the 8:00 saw what happens when I get to praying and forget to pay attention to what’s next!  But I am also worshiper with you.  I have a function, yes, but I am also one who offers praise and worship alongside you, confessing my sins, casting myself before the throne of glory.  I both function and worship.  I use my body for both.

And that is true for every person in this room.  We use our bodies in the service of God, wherever we find ourselves, offering our lives and work to God, living out those glorious baptismal vows imperfectly, yes, and often with hearts of stone and we forget we are his servants but then somehow we are touched and come back and God does handsprings in joy.  We use these bodies – old, flabby, looking nothing like the current standard of beauty, and offer them to the service of Christ who also was made flesh.  Even when we are old, or sick, or sad; even when we are lost or in pain, our bodies are still Christ’s body, to be used in Christ’s service.  In that luminous line from Rite I, “And here O merciful Lord we present until thee ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee.”  I always feel I should be naked when I pray it.

I do not know how my mother serves God now, but I believe she continues to do so.  It must be true!  If God works so hard to create each of us so perfectly and uniquely, body mind and spirit and breathes life into these bodies, God certainly is not going to lose us in death. The perfection of our bodies includes the beauty of mortality.  Our life in God may be forever, but our bodies are not, and when our days are done we release life from these bodies with our last breath which I like to believe God inhales, as breath and Spirit are the same thing.  Our bodies then become the Earth again to nourish new life rising from our dust.  In a very few weeks we will be signed on our foreheads with ashes in the shape of the cross, as we were with oil at our baptism.  “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  And our eyes fill with tears and we nod yes to the truth of it all.  And then we take out bodies back outside and continue to serve while we have breath. What an amazing economy!  What a dance!  What a Mystery!

Today, my last at this Cathedral, I have an urgency to celebrate Eucharist with you, to say those words in your midst, to break the bread and place it in your outstretched hands which will then leave this place and go serve others.  I will say “The body of Christ given for the body of Christ.”  St. Augustine said “We eat the body of Christ so that we can become the body of Christ.”   Please – right here, right now – look at your hands with their unique fingerprints, with their gnarled knuckles, with their scars and stories of wonder and pain.  These are Christ’s hands.

Body of Christ, I love you with a fierce love.  BE the Body of Love to each other.  Believe that your body and Christ’s are inseparable.  In the words of Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours, no feet but yours…  Yours are the eyes with which Christ’s compassion is to look onto the world; yours are the feet with which Christ is to go about doing good; yours are the hands with which Christ is to bless all people now.”   Amen.