The Body of Christ
I John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36-48, April 19, 2015
I want to cover a lot of ground this morning. The lessons today are really important, and we’re baptizing Emmett this morning, also really important!
The gospel lesson starts on what we would call Easter evening. Two followers of Christ have walked from Jerusalem toward a village called Emmaus. One of them is named Cleopas…and the other isn’t. As they are walking and it’s getting late, they talk to another man who walks with them who asks what’s been happening in Jerusalem. It’s like he’s the only person in town who doesn’t know about Jesus being crucified. It’s late in the day and Cleopas and the other disciple have reached their destination, but the one they’ve been walking with plans to walk a little farther, even though it’s getting dark. They press him to stay with them. When the three men sit down to eat, the stranger breaks the bread and Cleopas and the other one realize that they’ve been talking to Jesus, and Jesus disappears! They raced back to Jerusalem, remember it’s 7 miles, and by the time they get there and find the other disciples and say, “We have seen the Lord!” Ok, so now you’re caught up with where the Gospel lesson starts.
Jesus showed them his hands and feet. They can see the wounds from the crucifixion. Jesus has come back to life! And there’s this great phrase, “while in their joy they were disbelieving…” It was simply too good to be true! Christ is risen! And he asks, “Got anything to eat around here?” They give him some fish and he eats it while they watch. Here’s the point of this passage. Jesus came back to life. He didn’t come back as a ghost, or as a figment of people’s imaginations. He came back to life. Ghosts don’t say, “Look at this sore I picked up Friday.” Ghosts don’t eat food. People with bodies eat food. People with bodies have wounds that take time to heal. It’s really, really important to Luke that there is evidence of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. And isn’t it strange that Cleopas and the other disciple didn’t recognize Jesus’ face? And isn’t it strange that it’s the scars that authenticate the resurrection, not Jesus’ face?
Things get a little tricky for Christians when we talk about the Body of Christ. No, things get very, very tricky for Christians. That word “body” in English, “σωμα” in Greek means two things: “the physical structure of a person or animal” and “a collective group” as in “the student body.” When we talk about “the body of Christ” we could mean the physical, wounded, fish-eating structure of Jesus as described in Luke’s gospel this morning” or we could mean, “all of Jesus’ followers who together are the Body of Christ.”
Today we celebrate that we are welcoming Emmett into the Body of Christ, by baptizing him into Christ’s death and resurrection. And this is an action for the universal church, the catholic with a small “c” church. Of all Christian practices baptism is the most common. Christians all over the world use the touch of water and the words “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” when a new Christian is brought into the Body of Christ. We do not think for a minute that Emmett is part of Jesus’ physical body—it’s obvious which sense we mean “the Body of Christ” in when we talk about joining the universal church.
And we celebrate baptisms. And we use words that help us see, know and trust how deeply God loves us. In a few minutes I’m going to quote I John saying, “See what love God has for us, that he calls us his children, and so we are.” And there’s a very good chance that I will cry when I say those words because they move me so profoundly. And we are all God’s children. And like children we are all precious in God’s sight and also growing and changing. People delight in babies, and reach out and touch their precious little toes, and hug their snug little bodies. Carl Sandburg said this about babies:
A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on. Never will a time come when the most marvelous recent invention is as marvelous as a newborn baby. The finest of our precious watches, the most supercolossal of our supercargo planes don’t compare with a newborn baby in the number and ingenuity of coils and springs, in the flow and change of chemical solutions, in timing devices and interrelated parts that are irreplaceable.
And when they are brand new, babies are really only bodies. Bodies that need to be fed and bathed and changed and burped. And as they grow up babies become children who can take care of their own bodies. The older they get, the less they need other people to care for their bodies. There’s a simultaneously happy and sad thing about babies growing up. They grow up—which is good—but they also grow away, which is sad. Every milestone in a children’s life is a step toward independence, and away from the bodily care offered by mom and dad.
I said before that the word “body” is very tricky for Christians. I’m going to close this morning by talking about why that is true. Baptism is truly the most universal Christian practice. If anything unites Christians—it’s baptism. And when we celebrate baptisms, we recite the Apostles’ Creed, because that’s the most widely-used confession of Christian faith. We’re all about inclusion, universality and unity today. We all remember our own baptisms and remember that we are part of the Body of Christ.
But there is also division in the Body of Christ. We talked about this at Confirmation 2.0 last week and we’ve spent a number of lessons in Confirmation this year talking about how different groups of Christians are distinct from each other. One deep division is how we understand some words that Paul wrote to the Corinthians—could you advance the slide?
When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another gets drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? [I Cor. 11:20-22]
Paul’s telling the Corinthians that they are demonstrating horrible manners! When they come together on Sunday in someone’s home to worship together, each of them brings their own food…the rich people bring good food and fine wine, and they have a party. The poor members of the Body of Christ come straight from work, probably and don’t have anything to eat! This is not a potluck gone awry—this is an insensitive practice of hospitality, mutuality and commonality—something we all share in the waters of baptism. Paul is really steamed about this—and I think any of us can see why.
After he reminds them about the way he first instructed them to celebrate the Lord’s supper, he tells them this—next slide
Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment on themselves. [I Cor. 11:28-29]
So you see, the stakes are pretty high for Christians. If we do not celebrate the Lord’s supper with the proper attitude, we bring judgment down on ourselves. No one wants that, right?
OK, so here’s how these words divide Christians, actually, that one word” body” divides Christians: Some followers of Christ say that Paul meant that to celebrate the sacrament faithfully, one must understand that the bread becomes the physical body of Christ, the contents of the cup becomes the actual blood of Christ. The high fallutin’ word for this concept is “transubstantiation.” Other, equally faithful Christians say that to properly celebrate the Lord’s supper, believers have to be aware of the other people who are also members of the Body of Christ. If we do not recognize that we are part of a much, much larger community, if we understand communion as a private, personal sacrament,that we do not need other people for it to happen—then we bring judgment down on ourselves.
That one word “body” which can be understood in two ways divides us around the Lord’s table.
Today we celebrate the deep, profound love God shows us in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We celebrate with words, music and cake that Emmett is about to become the newest member of the Body of Christ, and we also recognize that we have a long way to go, to live united as Christ’s body in the world. Amen.