Thursday, April 06, 2017

Jesus, Holy, Weak: On Apprehended Bodies

At the end of his life, Jesus was not in possession of his own body. He was possessed by the state, handed over to those in power, incarcerated and crucified. He was, as it were, apprehended. He was in the state of apprehension.

On that holy night of Eucharist and foot-washing (observed on our calendar as Maundy Thursday), on the evening of his betrayal, he gives his body away freely in the meal he offered to his disciples--this is my body, given for you.

His body is then man-handled by the authorities, and led away to the Good Friday of the cross. "Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him" (Matthew 26:50). "Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest (26:57). Having determined to kill him, to exterminate his body, "they bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor" (27:2). Throughout the gospel post-apprehension, Jesus is "handed over," whipped flogged, nailed. Things are done to his body at the hands of others.

The entirety of the story of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection is inescapably bodily. Not only is Christ's apprehended body the center of the trial and crucifixion... his eventual resurrection is also focused on the body. There's no body in the tomb. The disciples encounter his resurrected body.

The church has ever since confessed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. It has then lived and acted as if the church is that body continuing in the power of the resurrected Christ by the sustaining and comforting presence of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit frees the body from apprehension. Do not be afraid! Jesus breathes on the disciples, and so on us, the church.

 It should come as no surprise, then, that the church as a corporate and corporal community is itself focused on bodily needs, and uses metaphors of the body to describe its common life. We are members of the body of Christ. Each member of the body plays a role within the body (1 Corinthians 12).

We carry the marks of Christ on our bodies (Galatians 6:7).

And that great text, 2 Corinthians: Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.

This should give us all indication of why liturgy, and holy week, are of utmost importance for the Christian life. Liturgy, corporate worship, are how we embody the Christian life in our collective body as the body of Christ. The liturgy, and especially the three days, shape not only our daily, but also our weekly and annual life. We are incorporated into Christ not just through physical touch (like laying on of hands and the meal) but also through time, by marking time in a certain way.

Next week, I unfortunately will also mark Holy Week by driving to Little Rock to protest the execution of eight men currently on death row in the state of Arkansas. It is remarkable, poignant, tragic, that our state, overseen as it is by Christian governors and attorneys, has seen fit to schedule a series of executions beginning the day after Easter.

Christians should know better, should know from the story of Jesus that state executions are wrong because a) mistakes are often made, and innocent people are killed, and b) the state often kills certain types of people more than others. There's an unmistakeable racial component.

Here's the letter we're sending to the governor and copying to Attorney General Leslie Rutledge:

We, the following faith leaders, call on Governor Asa Hutchinson to stop the eight upcoming scheduled executions of Don Davis, Bruce Earl Ward, Ledelle Lee, Stacey Johnson, Marcel Williams, Jack Jones, Jason McGehee and Kenneth Williams and commute their sentences to life without parole.   
As faith leaders, we are opposed to the death penalty because we believe that in spite of their actions, they retain the God-given dignity of any human life which must be respected.  Aside from this God-given dignity, there are other reasons for not applying the death penalty.  
                 *It is not effective as a deterrent to crime. 
                 *It is applied inconsistently.                
                 *It has a negative impact even on the family of the victim.                
                 *Mistakes are made-since 1973, 139 inmates on death row from 26 states  have been exonerated.              
                 *Studies in other states have shown that the death penalty is more costly than alternative sentences.
Imagine doing what Jesus did on Palm Sunday, it's major political implications. It's as if he rented a limousine, rode into the state capitol, and all the citizens came out heralding him as "Governor Jesus." This would have bothered many of the religious and regular citizens alike. It would have, and did, scare and threaten the actual governor of the state.

The "body politic" thus notices, rightly, that everything about Jesus' ministry was bodily. He comes as the Messiah in the body. He heals and feeds bodies. His body is arrested and incarcerated, nailed to a cross, and killed. He is laid as a body in the tomb, and rises bodily from the dead. He ascends into heaven as a body.

In this sense, Jesus Christ isn't just any body, but is in fact something like the anti-body, the healing body for the life of the world, and the body that stands in stark opposition to the death-dealing "body politic" that oppresses other bodies.

No wonder the church has always historically emphasized observing the bodily nature of Christ in ways that mark time in the body, that sets aside time for bodies to come together, and to live as an alternative body in the world. The church baptizes bodies, feeds bodies, protects bodies, advocates for bodies, recognizes the full humanity of every body.

1 comment:

  1. And when we go to love our neighbor we are supposed to pick him up off the side of the road a carry him to shelter like Jesus said. Could get pretty messy doing that.