Content notes: mention of (no dwelling, no details) suicidality, self-harm, eating disorders, getting kicked out by your family, sexual assault
Now, will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable to you oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
You've probably heard this list of spiritual gifts many times before, but I want to focus on this verse near the end, verse 27 -- "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."
YOU are the Body of Christ.
The 16th-century Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila wrote:
Christ has no body but yours,She is asserting that we are the means by which Christ's ministry of good work in the world continues:
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which [Christ] looksAll the work that Jesus did -- siting at table with people, healing people, blessing people -- we are called to continue that work.
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which [Christ] walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which [Christ] blesses all the world.
Paul is clear that we all have different gifts -- prophecy, teaching, healing, assisting, leading...
But I think that two of the gifts that Teresa of Avila highlights -- looking compassion on the world and blessing the world -- are gifts that we can ALL cultivate.
In her book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor asserts that, “a blessing does not confer holiness. The holiness is already there” (p. 203).
Can we look with compassion on all that is around us and recognize the holiness therein? Can we recognize that holiness in ourselves? She suggests practicing by blessing everyone and everyTHING that you come across -- it doesn't have to hear you, the important part is cultivating a practice in yourself of acknowledging the holy.
"Notice what happens inside you," she writes, "as the blessing goes out of you, toward something that does not deserve it, that may even repel it. If you can bless a stinking dump, surely someone can bless you. (p. 203)
Of course, the Beatitudes we are all so familiar with -- "Blessed are the meek," etc. -- do not merely say, "The meek are holy," they contain promises -- "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Taylor writes, "To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God's own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is to share God's own audacity." (p. 206)
These promises are glimpses of Kindom life, of what the fully redeemed Creation we are all working toward will look like.
Blessed are the sex workers, for they shall know pleasure without obligation.
Blessed are the queer kids kicked out of their homes, for they shall know the deep love of found family.
Blessed are the trans women of color, for they shall know bodies in which they are truly safe and at home.
In the long farewell discourse in the Gospel of John, Jesus is reported to have said, "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these" (12:14).
It's easy to explain this as meaning that the later generations would convert even greater numbers of people or something like that, but I don't think that Jesus was so limited about what great works would entail.
I think that Jesus meant that we who came after would go even farther into radically transforming the world into one of God's delight, one where each and every one of God's children grows up in a community of care, with emotional support and health care and joyful play and meaningful work, with enough resources to comfortably sustain ourselves and those we love.
And we are all, together, the Body of Christ, reaching out our calloused hands and nursing breasts and singing voices, bringing the Kindom of God, little by little, closer to reality here on earth.
And even though we or others might say that we are not really part of the Body, because we are not like other parts of the Body -- we don't look like them, we don't act like them, we don't have their gifts -- Paul asserts:
If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. (vv. 15-16)If someone says: Because you are not heterosexual, you do not belong to the Body...
If you say, Because I am suicidal, I do not belong to the Body...
If someone says: Because you have sex in exchange for drugs, you do not belong to the Body...
If you say, Because I cut and starve myself, I do not belong to the body...
Paul is there to say, no, you have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and you are a new Creation in Christ Jesus. You are God's beloved.
And Paul even goes so far as to point out here that "the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect" (vv. 22-23).
It is precisely those the world seeks to dismiss that God says are most precious.
If we are the Body of Christ, then that means that our bodies are the body of Christ. Our queer, female, Black, brown, disabled, trans, bodies.
Jesus walked the earth as a particular Palestinian Jew read by the culture as male, but the Body of Christ is our body.
Jesus brought something of that consciousness -- of what it is to live our particular embodied experience, our sexuality, our chronic pain, our gender, our sexual assault, our trauma -- to Jesus' time on earth two thousand years ago. In the way that only God can do, Jesus carried the experiences of billions of humans in one body. And in the way that humans are limited, Jesus didn't necessarily always get it right -- we can talk another time about how I'm not in love with Jesus -- but still, however so slightly, something of each of us informed the Jesus we read about in the Gospels.
Paul says in Romans, "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another." (12:4-5)
We are members of one another. We belong to one another. We are responsible to and for one another.
This may mean blessing silently from a distance, this may mean offering the work and kindness of our hands, but whatever it is, it is always embodied, for we are embodied. And Paul's use of the image of the human body to describe the church universal, to describe our union with Christ, reminds us that our bodies are precious gifts from God, deeply beloved by God, and reflected in Jesus Christ. In this broken world, our bodies often fail or frustrate us, but let no one tell you that your body, or what you do with your body, makes you any less precious to the God who created, redeemed, and sustains us.