I’ve just had this epiphany. (A warning: my epiphanies have about a 50% success rate at seeming meaningful later. Perhaps comments can help me decide if this counts as a real epiphany or not.)
It’s about how important the body is to Christianity.
Lots has been said, written, and discussed about how midevil Christianity perverted Christ’s message, most specifically in interpetting Jesus’ teachings as being anti-body, anti-flesh. I’m accepting this premise as a given here; I’m not going to explore the whys, or the hows of where we went astray. I’m more interested of what Jesus was about in the first place.
My first realization was that the institution of communion is radically body-affirming. When Jesus first mentioned that we would need to eat his flesh, scripture reports that he freaked many of his followers out. It almost seems like a turning point.
Even by todays standards, this claim is down right creepy. I can only imagine what it seemed like to Jesus’ followers. They’d grown up in a culture where dead flesh and blood of animals were more than disgusting: these things so polluted us that they made us unworthy to approach God. For us, dead flesh is a hygiene thing. For them, it was a moral thing, an obedience thing.
But Jesus said we need to take his flesh into our flesh. His body into our body. It wasn’t enough to take his ideas into our mind. It wasn’t enough to internalize his teachings in our heart. His flesh into our flesh… What an amazing declaration about the importance of the body!
I’m thinking about the words “incarnation” and “carnal”. Interesting how they both how the same root, meaning “the flesh” in Latin. We praise Jesus embodiement while decrying our own.
This is not to say that being in the world is how we’re supposed to be. This is not to say it’s o.k. to behave in ways we often describe as “of the flesh.” But I think that locating, for example, sexual sin in the body is a cop-out. It’s a way to pass the buck, to locate the problem elsewhere.
Maybe what it all comes down to is that Jesus was about concrete, physical things in the real world. He made (multiplied) real loaves and fishes; he tells us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner. He certainly new about active listening, and emphasizing, and all sorts-of touchy feely, non-physical ways we can take care of each other.
But he said that the church is his body, and that the church is his bride; two physical entities. He could have compared the church to a conscience, or lots of other nonphysical things. But he didn’t. And I think that’s significant.