June 7, 2015
The Second Sunday after Pentecost
In our Epistle reading today (2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1), Paul assures us that our earthly life is just a momentary affliction, to be followed by an unending new life in heaven, contemplating the glory of God. At least, that’s what the plain meaning seems to be, and that’s how this passage and others like it have been taught for countless generations. And for many Christians – including many of you here today – this understanding of eternal life is a comfort and a hope.
But since I’ve never been particularly afraid of death, I’ve always been a bit baffled by all the promises of heaven, eternal life, resurrection. It’s not that I want to argue about it. I just don’t care much about heaven and its potential delights, believing that what I am called to do is live in this life, in this body, here and now, following Jesus as well as I am able. And as today’s Gospel reading (Mark 3:20-35 ) makes clear, what Jesus calls us to is to do the will of God. Jesus isn’t talking some misty future. He is talking about living a life of love and service in the here and now.
But recently I was given a new understanding about what resurrection might mean. While I was on silent retreat a few weeks ago, I read a book by dancer, pastor, and scholar Angela Yarber, called The Gendered Pulpit. As the title suggests, it’s a book about what difference it makes when women preach, teach, and lead in churches, and for most of it I didn’t find many surprises. But as I got to the closing pages, I read Yarber’s story about going to chapel one week during her last year in seminary. She writes,
Singing, praying, preaching, communion: there was nothing unusual about worship. In fact, I don’t remember who preached, what songs we sang, or who was lifted up during the prayers of the people. As worship was coming to a close, I noticed something printed in the bulletin that was cause for concern: the Apostle’s Creed. Reciting the Apostle’s Creed was not a normative part of our worshipping life at my seminary. It was a Baptist seminary, after all, and Baptists aren’t creedal. Plus, seminary is typically a time of great cynicism, cognitive dissonance, a time when heresy is permitted and questions abound. I couldn’t image many of my classmates—myself included—affirming all the words in the creed.
The time came for us all to recite the creed, neatly printed in our bulletins. I sighed an exasperated sigh, rolled my eyes, and mumbled along, aware that a sense of community was probably more important than my own theological disbelief. Bodies standing, hands gripping crumpled bulletins, voices united, we all proclaimed, “I believe in God…” As the creed continued, everyone listed the things we believe: “communion of saints, forgiveness of sins, etc.” I continued to mumble. But when we reached the phrase “the resurrection of the Body” something happened. “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” If I’m honest, I don’t really believe that, at least not in the traditional sense. But in community I recited those words and surprised myself as tears began to fill my eyes.
You see, I might not believe in the resurrection of a literal body. I believe that Jesus’ body is resurrected in each of us, in our bodies. We are the resurrection body of Christ. We embody resurrection when we live into all the things I’ve discussed in this book. We proclaim the body resurrection when the gendered, sexualized, dancing, disordered body is affirmed and celebrated. When we create places for all marginalized bodies—gendered, racialized, sexualized bodies—to have opportunities for resurrection: that is the resurrection of the body. If we do not create these pathways to resurrection for all humanity, I am convinced that Jesus’ body remains tethered to the grave. It is our actions, our bodies, our proclamations that create resurrection.
In that moment, when I recited that line in the Apostle’s Creed, I realized that I actually can believe in the resurrection of the body. It was as though the creed was telling me, “There’s hope for your body yet, Angela.” [Yarber, The Gendered Pulpit, p 138-9]
As I read these words, my eyes, too, began to fill with tears. How many times have I said from this pulpit,”We are the resurrection body of Christ”? How many times have I said, here and elsewhere, “I believe that Jesus’ body is resurrected in each of us, in our bodies”? If Angela Yarber could say, I believe in the resurrection of the body, so could I. It was as though God was speaking through the pages of this book, telling me that there is hope for my body, too, even if I can’t quite believe in pie in the sky when I die.
Because, you see, although I am not afraid of death, I am afraid of pain and diminishment. I’ve had a lot of both these last few years, and I’ve been resenting how much time and energy it takes just to keep the body functioning. There are a lot of things I’d rather be doing than lifting weights, doing crunches, or pedaling an exercise bike, but I have to do it pretty much every day if I want to be able to move at all. So what would it mean to believe in the resurrection of the body, of my body, your body, all of our bodies?
Here’s what know. For many months, I have been wandering around in the wilderness of depression as well as physical pain. Although I am surrounded by people who love me, although I have a good job with a mission that I believe in, although I continue to journal and pray and meditate and read scripture, I’ve been feeling lonely, desolate, unable to find the right spiritual food or water to sustain my spirit. Walking the labyrinth at Dayspring in the slanting light of late afternoon brought some relief. Remembering that life is always a spiral journey, I wrote in my journal,
I walk towards the center by a looping path, getting closer only to be taken outward towards the periphery, then, suddenly, finding myself almost on top of the mound of stones and twigs and coins and pinecones and feathers left by other pilgrims. I take some photos to remember the moment by, then slowly walk away by the same path, looping outwards and inwards and outwards again, until I have returned to the single opening, changed and still recognizably myself.
Now, clearly well into the second half of my life, I am on the looping outward journey, back to the mystery that is before birth and after death. I think that I have touched the center once or or maybe even twice. But maybe I have only come close, and there is a greater mystery yet to come. And maybe there is no exit, only transformation when we finally reach that elusive marker. Either way, I know that I cannot control or define any of it. What I do know is that this practice of meditative walking takes on more and deeper meaning every time I do it. Where once I was dismissive of walking the spiral pathway, now I find a richness that I once refused to see.
I believe in the resurrection of the body
I want my body to be redeemed. I want this body that has been the locus of so much pain, so much weakness, so much dis-ability, to become once more a locus of joy. I believe in the resurrection of the body.
I will probably never run or even walk down a flight of stairs freely as I did without thought when I was young, but I can remember to rejoice that I can walk for miles on level ground. I believe in the resurrection of the body.
I may never be able to lift my right arm straight over my head again, but I can rejoice in my ability to raise it at all, to put away a dish, to pour water out of the kettle, to dress and bathe and put on makeup and wash my hair without help. It wasn’t so long ago that I could do none of those things. I believe in the resurrection of the body.
I will probably never again dance with the abandon that is the province of the young, strong, trained body that I once lived in, but perhaps I can dance again in this body, with all of its limitations but also with all of its experience. I believe in the resurrection of the body.
In her little book of meditations on the artist’s life, Art and Soul, Audrey Flack writes:
Art can be: joyous, exciting, life-enhancing, fun-packed, insight-provoking, exalting. Art can be: terrifying, frenetic, devastating, deadening, life-draining, mean-spirited, illusion-shattering. When art is mostly all of the first category, it means the go-ahead signal is on. When art is mainly of the second category, it’s time to go dancing. [Flack, Art and Soul, p 61]
For far too long, my life has been filled with much that is terrifying, frenetic, devastating, life-draining, mean-spirited, and illusion-shattering. I believe in the resurrection of the body. So, I guess it’s time to go dancing!