A Sermon by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First and Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Third Sunday of Easter—May 4, 2003
Text: Luke 24:36b-48
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’ve spent a lot of time this last week thinking about bodies.
Now, before you go wondering just what kind of a synod assembly we were having up there in Grand Forks, let me clarify that. I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to have a body, what it means to have a body, why we’ve got bodies in the first place.
And I’ve been wondering about heavenly bodies, too. No, there were no supermodels at the assembly. I’m talking about Jesus, and the body he was born into as a baby in Bethlehem. And I’m talking about the body that our scripture reading today shows us he so clearly had even after the resurrection.
And I’ve finally been kicking around what all this body talk means. Is it somehow important that we are embodied creatures? How does Jesus’ earthly and resurrection embodiment affect us? What will happen to us when these bodies of ours finally die?
So, let’s take a look at that first part: What’s it like to have a body?
It’s an odd question. Most of us never really think about what having a body is like, because we’ve just always had one. We’ve lived in our skins from the very beginning, and it’s a fact of life for us. It’s hard to stop and think how we’d describe life with our bodies to someone who had never had a body in the first place.
The first thing that comes to my mind is how limiting bodies are. During a normal day, I need to stop and eat at least a couple of times. Same way with drinking. Not just water, though…my body gets bent out of shape with me if I don’t give it just the right amount of caffeine, too.
If only the limitations of my body stopped there, though! You see, I get tired. Come about two in the afternoon, I’m almost always ready for a nap if I can sneak one. And no matter how much work I’ve got to do, I can’t go for days on end without sleeping. Sure, back in my college days I’d pull an all-nighter now and then, but even then I’d find myself crashing the whole next day because of my lack of sleep.
Then there’s the whole matter of sickness and poor health. A few weeks ago, you remember, I put my back out on a Saturday morning, and I learned all about how limiting a body can be. All of a sudden I couldn’t go where I wanted to go, or do what I intended to do. I had all kinds of plans for my das, but because of the limitations of my body, I mostly just sat around and wondered how I would ever tie my shoes.
The ultimate limit our bodies place on us, though, is that in the end they always die. Despite thousands of years of our best scientific efforts, we’re still stuck with the rather unpleasant fact that after seventy or so years, most of our bodies will have just worn out. Maybe a few more years, maybe a few less. But sooner or later, every embodied creature has to die.
Bodies are limiting. They can keep us from doing the things we imagine and the things we desire, and they set a limit on the years of our lives.
Bodies also are natural barriers. My body is the thing that keeps you and me separate. If we were to put our hands together and push all day, by five o’clock you would still be you and I would still be me, and all we’d have to show for our efforts would be tired muscles and sore, red palms.
Sometimes I like this. Having a body that lets me keep my secrets to myself can be a fun thing sometimes, like when I’m planning a surprise party. Other times, though, it’s just a way for me to protect that nasty, sinful part of myself that I don’t want anyone to see or know. Either way, I’m often glad that my body keeps you out.
But there are times when I wish bodies weren’t such barriers. Have you ever wanted to speak to someone, but not know the words to say? Times like those, I wish I could just show myself completely to the other person somehow, so that they could know. But my body gets in the way. It’s a thick wall that keeps me in even as it keeps you out.
But this makes it sound like having a body is a bad thing! But God made us to be creatures with bodies. You remember that when God made the first human, he shaped him a body out of clay and breathed spirit into it. The body by itself was not a living thing, and neither was the spirit. Human beings aren’t spirits trapped inside a body…we are body and spirit together. You can’t separate them out in us like the white and the yolk of an egg. And God intended us right from the beginning to be “body creatures.”
Having a body lets us experience the world around us through senses. What a joy to be lulled to sleep by the sound of the falling rain; to feel the force of a hot shower pulsing against the skin; to smell a pot of coffee brewing downstairs ; to taste a loaf of bread made just a minute ago by Mom’s own hands; to look into the eyes of someone we love. Our senses are among the gifts of life as a body that we often forget because they are so near to us. But they are gifts, just the same.
And even many of those limitations our bodies force on us are things that we take pleasure in. It’s true that we have to eat and drink, but we turn that limitation into a time for fellowship and joy, delighting in both the company and the food on the table. And even though it can be a pain to get tired, aren’t there very few things better in life than a perfect night of sleep?
So right from the beginning, God made us bodily creatures, with all the joy and longing that goes with such a life.
But what on earth are we to think about Jesus, the Son of God, being born as a little child, body and all?
There have always been Christians who had a hard time with this. Some, who were called Gnostics, believed that the physical world—including bodies—was evil. They taught that humans were originally spirits who had become trapped in fleshly bodies and forgotten their true spiritual nature. Gnostics believed that we came from heaven and would return to heaven when we realized who we really were. Jesus was the spirit who showed us that we are also spirits, the Gnostics taught. Jesus wasn’t really a human being, even though he might have seemed like it. He couldn’t have been, because bodies are evil and Jesus was the Son of God. And if he wasn’t really an embodied human being like us, he couldn’t have died on the cross, either. It only seemed that way to the people who were there, taught the Gnostics.
This is, of course, a false teaching called “docetism,” and its name comes from the Greek word for “seeming.” As strange as it is, and as scandalous as it may seem, Jesus Christ—the Son of God—really and truly became a human being. He lived as flesh and spirit woven into one body, just like we do. He experienced the joys and limitations of having a body. He knew what it was like to get tired or to be hungry. He understood how our bodies can be barriers that keep us apart. And he must have loved seeing the world, his own creation, though human senses. And in the end, just like any other embodied person, he died.
He didn’t only seem to die, like Gnostics and Docetists might tell you. And there wasn’t some part of Jesus that just returned to heaven and twiddled his thumbs for three days, waiting to reappear here on earth. When Jesus became human, he became fully human, and when human beings die, we’re dead. That’s how it was for Jesus, too.
But on the third day, God raised him up, and here’s where it gets interesting: when Jesus appears to his disciples, like in today’s reading, he still has a body. He’s not a ghost or a spirit floating around Jerusalem. He’s there, just as physical and real as you or I, eating and talking and laughing and embracing.
Even more surprising, Jesus has scars. On the far side of death, Jesus still bears the marks of his crucifixion. There are holes in his body even after the resurrection, holes in his hands and holes in his feet, and even a hole in his side where the spear had pierced him. Jesus conquered the grave, but the battle left its marks, and in his resurrected life he will wear those scars forever.
What does all this mean for us? Why does it matter to you or to me whether Jesus is a spirit floating around this countryside or a resurrected man whose body is marked with scars?
It matters because Jesus is the firstborn of the dead, and through faith in him, his destiny is our destiny, too. His body is for you. Those marks on his hands and feet are for you. And his triumph over death—well, that’s for you, too.
In Jesus Christ, God overcame the limitations of our bodies. On the Day of Resurrection, we will be like Jesus, with bodies that do not tire, do not get sick, do not wear out, and most important of all, do not die. Jesus became like us so that we might become like him.
Every week we confess that we believe in the resurrection of the body. God raised Jesus up and gave him a resurrected body that will never die. And because God is saving the whole world through Jesus Christ, each of us can count on being raised up at the last day and given a resurrected body like his. Through faith in Jesus, we are seeds, the apostle Paul said. Simple physical, earthy little seeds that get planted in the ground for a time. In the great springtime of the resurrection, we have God’s promise that he will cause us to spring forth from the earth, no longer seeds but a new harvest ready to be gathered in to God. We will be transformed, and we will discover our new bodies are fit for an eternity with Christ in the presence of God the Father and the Holy Spirit.
And so we give thanks to God today for our bodies, both the ones we have now and the ones he has promised us on the Day of Resurrection. Most of all we thank him for the body of his Son, Jesus Christ, in whom our faith and hope rest. Thanks be to God. Amen.