Becoming the Body April 6, 2008 (Luke 24:13-35) Our passage this morning has a rich and meaningful tradition

that has shaped many faith expressions. The image of two people walking alongside each other with Jesus appearing to them is formative for the movement called spiritual companioning where, like on the road to Emmaus, small groups of people travel alongside each other by listening to each other’s story. The one listening then pays attention to how Christ might be present in their lives. Others have taken this passage as a model of Christ as a pastoral care giver. The context is one of grief and crisis. The two individuals traveling together have just experienced loss; not only the loss of someone close to them, but also the loss of their hopes and dreams for the people of Israel. Jesus comes alongside them and simply listens to their story and remains present with them through their grief. These are helpful images of this passage and I am sure there are many others but this morning I want to ask a particular question or series of questions of this passage. We have just passed Easter Sunday and proclaimed the resurrection, which we hold as our hope for the future. But Christ did not ascend directly into heaven, his body continued to move about and encounter people. So what was Jesus doing during this time? What is the purpose for the types of visitations he makes before he ascends into heaven? Why didn’t he just stay on earth? What has changed after the resurrection? His body seems somehow different and the Gospels make sure we are aware of that. People close to him do not recognize him. He can walk through walls and will vanish in an instant. Just what is going on here? Is this part of Jesus’ life also significant? How so? How is this event, this encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, part of the larger story that also includes us as the church?


It is all too common to say that the goal of the Christian is to imitate Christ, to be followers of Christ. We wrestle with the parables that Jesus told us. We try to live an ethic of neighbourly love. However, is it also possible that we can learn something from the actual body of Jesus? If it was only important that certain teachings were given and certain actions performed then that could be have been done by someone else. But it seemed to be important, indeed crucial, that the one true God took the form of a body and lived among us. Before you think it is silly or irrelevant to pay attention to how Jesus’ body is dealt with in the Bible think about the role of the body in our culture. I can’t image that there is anyone here who is not concerned about the body. Advertisements, music videos, movies and artists centre on bodies to communicate their message. In fact this Sunday we are beginning an adult Sunday School elective using a book called Body Talk that explores the overall health of our bodies. Many of us don’t really even feel comfortable in our own bodies or feel uncomfortable talking to our children about bodies. We discipline our bodies, we indulge our bodies and we fight over what certain bodies can and cannot do. We say that bodies with one type of plumbing can only be married to bodies with another type of plumbing. We say that once a body has begun to be formed it is sacred and must be protected. We argue over how much a body should be covered. Much of the world still says that those with a certain body will have more rights than those with another type even if it just means that your body happened to be manufactured with another colour. We think that within the body are laws that determine how we will act. We want to categorize the body. Years ago there was a reoccurring character on


Saturday Night Live named Pat. People could not figure if Pat was male or female. It drives us crazy to live with ambiguity or uncertainty when it comes to our bodies. The body is a scientific, political and religious reality. If you are still not convinced I suspect that most of you have heard about the episode on Oprah where a person who was born biologically female, lived as a man by having mostly cosmetic and hormonal medical procedures, married a woman and now because his wife could not conceive decided to have the child himself as he still had the internal reproductive organs. Did you follow all of that? Makes for good daytime programming but it has stirred up legal, medical and religious controversy . . . all because of the body. What is the limit of what we can and should do with our bodies? How do we make these decisions? What are our bodies in relationship with God? It is not quite as simple a topic as it first appears. And, it turns out that paying attention to the body of Jesus may just help us out. When it comes to Jesus we often don’t want to think about his body. It is strange that something as important as God taking the form of a body is largely neglected in how we read the Bible and how we think theologically. While we will return to our story on the road to Emmaus let’s take some time to look at and think about the body of Jesus. I am indebted to the theologian Graham Ward who has taken much time and effort to explore Jesus’ body as a significant and central theological expression in the gospels. Ward reminds us that right from Jesus’ birth we are confronted with something odd. Never mind the story from Oprah but here we have a virgin apparently giving birth and what’s more it is a male. Now I am sure they were not thinking of it at the time but it takes the male Y chromosome for this to happen. Less then normal circumstances none


the less, a story prone to some suspicion and skepticism. As Ward works through the gospel accounts he notices that theologically speaking Jesus’ body is not stable. His body did not follow along a fixed and static trajectory. When Jesus goes up to a mountain with Peter, James and John it says that he was transformed, he morphed, his whole appearance was dazzling white and then a cloud covered them and God spoke. Jesus’ body was not limited to being a biological male. It was much more abundant, through his body the presence and glory of God is revealed in beauty at the transfiguration. Ward goes on to look at the last supper that Jesus has with his disciples. Once at the table Jesus says and does something strange. He takes a piece of bread, breaks it and the then holds it up and says this is my body. We as a church of course still wrestle with what exactly that means but the intention is that indeed somehow the body of Jesus is present to all believers and it is to be his body that should sustain them. His body here is understood as neither male nor female, it is food, sustenance. At the crucifixion there is yet another transformation of Jesus’ body particularly as Jesus’ side is pierced on the cross. John records that from Jesus side a sudden flow of blood and water poured from him. This final outpouring of blood and water can be viewed theologically as the life of the church, as a birthing event. In this way the biologically male body of Jesus is framed theologically in the feminine as a mother birthing the church. It may seem odd or even uncomfortable to view Jesus as feminine or as mother but I suspect that it is due to the role that we give biology. Men simply are not mothers, as we see with the buzz from Oprah. This was not an issue for the ancient and medieval church where it was quite appropriate to understand Jesus as a mother who


births, nourishes and cares for us. In the absence of females some abbots in early monasteries looked to Jesus to form an appropriate mothering role for their monks. It is still difficult for us as we say that our bodies are comprised of two different, actually we call them opposite genders. In fact some writers even think they came from different planets. How could one person shift between the two expressions? Even after significant shifts in our understanding of gender we are still cautious of being identified too closely with the other gender. In the Gospels the body of Jesus is always important and that he is male is important but it is not as important as his body being a medium for God’s work and revelation and this will always been something beyond the categories and limits that we place on bodies. This brings us to the resurrection. Here Jesus appears to take on almost ghost-like qualities where he disappears or walks through walls and yet he also asks for food to point out that he can still eat, that he is still a human body. He still moves and breathes in his body but it is becoming even more unstable, more mysterious. What is the point of Jesus’ body in these stories? What is teaching us about his and our own bodies? First there is Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene outside the tomb. Mary came early in the morning to the tomb only to find that the stone was removed and Jesus was gone. She ran back to the disciples to tell them that Jesus had been taken away. The disciples joined her at the tomb and then it says that after they left she stood outside the tomb crying. She looked into the tomb again and this time saw two angels seated on either side of where Jesus would have been laid. At this time Jesus appears behind Mary but, like our companions on the road to Emmaus, she does not recognize him.


It is when he says her name that she recognizes him, calls out teacher! and holds on to him. But he tells Mary not to cling on to her. In an ironic twist Jesus tells a woman who has no formal power in their society not to try and control and possess his body. She has lost him once and does not want to let that happen again. Relationships, though, require respectful space even and especially between genders. The church and the western world in general has had through much of history a possession over women’s rights in public. This is an inappropriate use of our bodies. It was in fact only some time in the 1700s that women were considered as distinct from men. Most models for understanding humans at that time placed women as an inferior form of a man. Men had clung onto women as a possession, an object to be controlled. And so in this ironic twist Jesus reminds Mary that we cannot and should not control another person, another body. We also cannot withdraw and reject either and so we draw close to people as Jesus did so that we can cross boundaries whether they are boundaries of gender and grief as it is here or across any boundary that keeps people nameless and debilitated. Intimacy, however, cannot occur if someone attempts to control or manipulate the other. We have to leave room for the mysterious and unpredictable held in our body and in the body of our neighbour. After appearing to Mary Jesus appears to the disciples, but the disciple Thomas was not with them and when they tell Thomas that Jesus had risen he says that he won’t believe it unless he can stick his hand into Jesus’ wounds. Thomas got his chance as the text says that Jesus appeared to them again a week later. Jesus approaches Thomas directly and tells him to place his hand into his side. Here again is an intimate scene between two bodies. And again it is ironic, at least in our culture that it is between men.


Jesus allows himself to take what seems to be almost a feminine posture of receiving Thomas in this scene. Even the most sensitive man can withdraw from opening himself in vulnerability to another man. Men have built up too much power over history in our culture and resist the risk losing more of it. But Jesus says that this, this is what our bodies are for. By opening up our wounds we may yet help others to heal. Here the lesson is opposite from Mary. Mary was not to cling to Jesus body. Thomas was isolating himself whether it was to protect himself or reject others it doesn’t matter. Jesus is now showing Thomas that we must draw close to others and we must often cross boundaries to do it. To isolate yourself or reject others is also to close off the type of mutual intimate relationship that Jesus was establishing between bodies. There are numerous recent books being written by men talking about men’s crisis of identity in the church. I find it fascinating that in nearly all responses the answer is a turn into some sort of hypermasculine man’s man. The new Christian man is rugged, wild, raw and dangerous. And it is fine to be all those things. In fact it would be helpful to allow more faithful risk taking in a culture that demands we always play it safe. There is a place for unrestrained expression of faith . . . but . . . if that expression leads to segregation or the rejection of other groups then it cannot be holy. It seems as though part of the feminist movement was the ability for some women to integrate aspects of a more traditionally masculine self-understanding. Men it seems had to respond then by becoming even more masculine. There is no doubt that both the men and women following Jesus were in the midst of rugged and wild experience. In fact it says explicitly that the doors were locked, as they were likely in fear of what some religious leaders might have done to them. They did not conform passively to their religious structure.


But for this expression to be sustainable and for it grow it is necessary to open yourself up vulnerably to those around you. We must expect and embrace that these intimacies will take both feminine and masculine expressions, regardless of what type of body we have. This brings us to this morning’s story. The story is not unlike Thomas as these two are leaving Jerusalem discouraged, not knowing that Jesus was alive. They were trying to figure out just what happened and what it meant. Jesus, his body again mysterious, comes alongside them asking questions. The three of them walk and talk for awhile until they reached the village that the two were traveling towards. Jesus seemed to be traveling further along when it says ‘they urged him strongly’ to stay with them for night. They sat down to eat and there Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them. It says, “then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” The imagery is of course draws us to the last supper. This time before they were able to respond as Mary and Thomas were able it says simply “and he disappeared from their sight.” His body in this story begins as a stranger but becomes their guest and is the transformed into bread, as their shared fellowship and sustenance. How does this happen? Jesus is revealed to them as they welcome the stranger into their midst. Here the body of Jesus, as the bread of communion, is present to the extant that the stranger, the one unknown to us, is welcomed in. This of course reminds us of the need to love our neighbour like the Good Samaritan but it also, again, tells us something of Jesus’ body. It comes alongside us a stranger, not fully known or revealing itself. It is the openness to intimacy in all these occasions that allows God to become known.


Jesus’ body does appear in many respects to be unstable. It is not fixed and constant. This is contrary to our culture. We want so much to be certain of knowing why I am this way, or why men or women are that way, or why Muslims are that way. These definitions create boundaries that exclude. It is not that differences don’t exist, we are most certainly not all the same, but we must allow our bodies and our differences to be changed and transformed as we allow ourselves to be open to others. Our passage this morning reminds us that the purpose of our bodies is to create spaces with one another where God can be revealed and where God transform us. In all of the encounters mentioned here some sort of revelation or new vision occurs. We are also drawing close to another event that involves Jesus’ body. May 1st is Ascension Day. The book of Acts tells us that the body of Jesus ascended into heaven before the disciples’ eyes. Jesus says earlier in John, “if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” Jesus’ body now opens itself up finally and fully to those who believe in him. The Spirit that dwelt fully in Christ is now coming into the world in a new way. This becomes central for the Apostle Paul who recognizes that now it is the church that is the body of Christ. So if we are to be the church, which is the body of Christ, we need to be reminded of the significance of Jesus’ own body on earth. Paul, again, calls us to this as well. We cannot let the biology or gender of our body define us, we cannot let our social position define us, we cannot let our economic position define us. Our bodies find meaning and purpose only as they reside in the body of Christ. Paul says flatly that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” We have our meaning spiritually and theologically in Christ. Here our bodies


become so much more than our cultural and biological definitions and so too is the body of your neighbour. Any labels we allow to be placed on a person or group limits the ability for God to be revealed through them. As a church we are long overdue in revisiting our definition and purpose of the human body. We have accepted the idea that bodies are to be clearly identified and defined and then set into specific roles or categories. It doesn’t matter if these are liberal or conservative categories. The body is a strange and mysterious place. This can certainly lead to our own discomfort in how understand our own bodies or talk about it to our children. We would just as soon have some control over our bodies so as to not have any surprises. But that is not the theological vision for our body. The body of Jesus remained mysterious with its significance changing depending on the relationship. What was consistent in Jesus’ body was that he never used it to control another person. Jesus also treated every other body as worthy of respect. In this way he used his body to stand between those with power and those without. Jesus knew that in every relationship when properly approached there is space for God to act and be revealed. Jesus said earlier in Matthew, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” That is the point and purpose of our bodies and of the church as the body of Christ, to create spaces where our wounds are revealed, where people are released from possession, and where the sustenance of Christ can nourish. Our culture tells that our bodies are machines for consumptions, trophies to be displayed and objects to be controlled. Jesus came and demonstrated that any time two bodies gather the one true can be present in power and glory. Amen.