All Souls’ Day – Preaching Series: Finding God in Harvard Square
This is the last in our preaching series, “Finding God in Harvard Square”, and the title of this sermon is, “The Soul of the Body.” It is the last of the series, suggesting perhaps that the body is the last place we may expect to find God.
This sort of thinking coincides with the feast we keep today, All Souls’ Day: The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, a day specifically set aside for remembering those who have died, those who, so far as we know, no longer have earthly bodies.
In many respects, we have been taught, and we do feel at times as though our bodies are mere vessels’.We may revere our bodies as temples at times, though we may also view our bodies as prisons which prevent us from living to our full potential. We may go back and forth. Many of us have ambiguous relationships with our bodies.
It’s hardly surprising. We did not choose our bodies. If we could, most of us would have requested a different model. It is through our bodies that we come to recognize weakness and fragility. Sickness in our bodies is inevitable. We may have to come to terms with a disability or an incurable illness, or we may watch a loved one face the same, and suffer. As we age, our bodies cannot do what they once did, nor do they look as they once looked. Everyone has a reason why they do not like their bodies: Bodies are clumsy; bodies are messy; bodies get broken; and bodies don’t always heal. It is through our bodies that we discover we are going to die.
It is no wonder, then, that in the creation story in Genesis, when the first man and woman recognize they are naked they cover themselves, and hide from God. The recognition that we are naked, weak, and fragile, dependent, powerless, and broken, the recognition that we are not God (contrary to what the serpent promised) can lead us to want to look away from our bodies, to not want to face our fragility. We are apt to want to conceal our brokenness from one another. Our mortality may put our faith in God to the test. We may be tempted to hide, run away from, or reject God, because we are angry, and think life is unfair, because of what we recognize in our bodies.
But when try to hide, deny, and conceal those parts of ourselves that we’d rather not face, when we distance ourselves or disown our bodies because of the fragility, brokenness, and mortality we recognize in them, we shut ourselves off from the possibility of experiencing wholeness. We hold back (we hide) the denied area, refusing to make it available for healing.
How can we discover wholeness if we insist on dividing ourselves up into conflicting parts?
Our bodies are not mere vessels’. They may be temples (holy because God made them and indwells them) but they are not prisons. We are our bodies – dependence, weakness, powerlessness are part of the deal. God has not promised us the eradication of brokenness, sickness, or dis-ease. And as Christians, we believe in the resurrection of the body, we believe that death does not free us from the necessity of having a body.
What we are seeking is not a way to escape the body, to flee what we cannot flee: our own selves. Nor, are we searching for an “answer” to the “problems” of our fragility, brokenness, and mortality. We are not searching for “answers”, though there is a solution.An answer may take the form of cosmetics, or surgery, exercise, nutrition, a fancy wardrobe, medicine,or medications. All of that is well and good, but it has very little to do with what we are doing here. Those might be answers, but what we need is a solution. A solution will show us how to live with (to survive!) our humanity. A solution will show us how to find joy within our suffering, healing within our pain, and peace within our brokenness.
The first step is embracing that our brokenness simply is. There is no one to blame – neither ourselves, nor anyone or anything else. Our brokenness, our pain, the fact that we suffer, and die simply is. It is the nature of our creation, and we discover it through our bodies.
It has been suggested that the unique gift that human beings have above all other animals is that we can share our death with one another. And I would add that we can share our brokenness, our pain, and our suffering, but only if we embrace it, only if we cease being afraid to show it. It is only by embracing our fragility, brokenness, and mortality, only in accepting that there is nothing “wrong” with being fragile, broken, and mortal that we can hope for whatever healing is available, that we can hope to become as “whole” as possible. When we embrace, show, and share our fragility, brokenness, and mortality with each other we can begin to heal.
Jesus shows us that. In Jesus, God becomes a human being – with a body, of course! A body that experienced diminishment, pain, suffering, and death. It is a way Jesus embraced (though not without struggle), it is a way Jesus showed (though not without sacrifice), and it is a way Jesus shared (for his healing – resurrection – and ours).
“Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you…. Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many….”
In the Eucharist, we are invited to participate in Jesus’ suffering and death by consuming his broken body and drinking his shed blood. Through this activity we confront our own brokenness and mortality. By doing it together, we experience life a little easier (or so we hope). We are left with the assurance that we are not in this alone, that we are in this thing called life together. And though our problems may vary, in the end we all have the same cross to bear. The same cross that Jesus bore. We are all fragile, broken, and we will all die. By embracing this reality together, by showing it, and sharing it through participation in the Eucharist (and elsewhere), we can begin to find peace within our brokenness (because we find that we fit among other others who are like us), we can find healing within our pain (because others can help us), and we can find joy in our suffering (because we don’t have to do it alone}.
What we have in common with Jesus, with each other,with all the living, we also have in common with those who have died. Those who, so far as we know, no longer have earthly bodies. Though we always remember them that way.
In a little while, we will hear read aloud the names of those who have died. Whether we recognize the names, we will know that they too were like us, that they too passed this way. They were fragile, broken, mortal, and loved! We are united with them in a common fellowship of humanity, a communion of souls, and saints.
The philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, said, “The chiefest sanctity of a temple is that it is a place to which [people] can go to weep in common.” (61).
We also know from the Revelation to John that the “home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with [us]; and [we] will be his peoples, God himself will be with [us]; he will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more….”
That can happen, because when we embrace, show, and share our fragility, brokenness, and mortality with each other – when we come together to weep in common – we can be healed.
The Spirituality of Imperfection, Kurtz and Ketcham, pg. 73
The Spirituality of Imperfection, Kurtz and Ketcham, pg. 2
The Illusion of Technique, by William Barrett.
The Spirituality of Imperfection, Kurtz and Ketcham, pg. 61.
 Revelation to John 21