God Bods
June 11, 2024

God Bods


Text: I Corinthians 11:17-26, 33-34

When I read texts like this, I remember why I do not gravitate to Paul and why I don’t prefer the epistles generally.  I’d rather stick with Jesus.  It’s a struggle to follow Jesus sometimes, but asking What Would Jesus Do? works a lot better and is a lot more straightforward for me than asking What Would Paul Preach? What Would Paul Say? Because Paul says soooo much! It seems like Paul is doing logic gymnastics. All of the if-then arguments at the beginning of this passage about bodily resurrection make my brain get all twisted up.

The fact is, though, only a few of the people in the early church had access to the historical person of Jesus. They didn’t have the gospels yet, as we do. There were some oral histories of Jesus being passed around. Jesus has appeared to some people after his resurrection - including Paul, as he likes to brag. That means those first churches struggled in the same way that we do to understand what it means to be a disciple - but without the benefit of the gospels to tell his story.

The reason Paul goes on and on so long is that he’s trying to help them make sense of Jesus.  In this passage he’s responding to questions we all have: Why do these bodies of ours suffer? Why do we and those we love die and how do we deal with it in light of a resurrected Jesus? What do we do with the chaos of this life?

A week or so ago I got up and was getting dressed and I didn’t have my glasses on yet so when I looked down on the floor and saw a gray blob it wasn’t immediately clear what I was looking at. I put on my glasses to discover it was either a very large mouse or a small rat. Dead. A gift from my cat Mel. The second one he’d brought to me that week, actually. 

He has left similar gifts before - usually (thankfully) outside - including chickadees, sparrows, moles and once a small rabbit. In fact, I have a special pair of tongs that are specifically for disposing of small creatures the cats have dispatched and left around the property. It’s gross but I’m also kind of glad that it means that we don’t have living critters in our house. He’s doing his job.

In this world and in our lives death is real. Now in the assault on Gaza we watch every day as people grieve family members violently taken from them. So much so that it starts to seem like death is merely a statistic - one that’s ever and horrifically rising - in an almost unreal way for those of us who are detached from it personally. 

But for many of us - for many of you - death and loss isn’t far away. Isn’t a statistic. It’s very personal and painful. It can’t be picked up and thrown away and forgotten. It can’t be turned off. It’s family.  It’s loved ones and dear friends. It’s fearful and it’s terribly sad. Those questions that Paul and the Corinthians had - we have them too.

Paul’s lens of understanding death - and life - is Jesus.  He takes the problem of death and remembers his experience of a resurrected Jesus, who appeared to him and so many in a resurrected and transformed body, and applies that experience to understanding the problem.  As I first  read Pauls’s words, at first it seemed to me as if he was trying to deny death, to spiritualize the reality of death: asking rhetorically where is its sting? and proclaiming victory through resurrection. Death swallowed up by life? That’s what is hard to swallow.  

These verses in 1 Corinthians 15 are a boiling down of Paul’s theology: God cared enough about the stuff of creation - earth and flesh and plants and water - that God became a part of it.  In a human body that suffered and died.  And that lived again. We’ve all heard of the dad-bod.  Jesus had a God-bod.  And, in fact we all have God-bods. Cathryn Schifferdecker, a professor at Luther Seminary in Minnesota, tells her students, “matter matters.”  Our bodies and the stuff of this earth is important to God, our creator.

Bodies matter so much to Paul that it is essential to his theology that they not just disintegrate and disappear into the universe.  That they don’t, like the mole and rat and chickadees dispatched by my cats, compost into the earth.  Paul believes our bodies are important and beloved by God.  We are not two easily separated halves - body and soul - but whole beings in which both are sacred.  So in death, believes Paul, our bodies will be transformed, remaining whole in the presence of God.

We don’t have actual physical proof of what happens to our essential selves after death - whether and how spirit and body transform as Paul insists.  I expect that even among our small gathering have different ideas about that - just like the Corinthian Christians did.  But we all have bodies.  We love people and creatures who are embodied beings.  And if we do believe in a Creator God who was intimately involved in piecing together the cells of leaves and the atoms in microbes and the fur and feathers of rats and robins, and our own selves and spirits, then we are matter that matters - we have and we are God-bods.  

I believe that means where we put our bodies and how we treat our bodies and what we do with our bodies - and the bodies of others - matters to God.  Our physical beings are important to God. They cannot be cleaved away from our spiritual being or our soul.

We only have to look to Jesus, the OG God-bod as our model. He began his life a fragile infant body, which we can imagine because like little baby Finn, who we dedicated only a few weeks ago, or our own babies and grandbabies, or ourselves, we have been held and cared for like that. And we have held and cared for others’ bodies like that.  

Scripture even gives us a glimpse of Jesus’ teenage body (though we don’t hear about the hormones and the body hair. We do read about him being nurtured in spirit and feeding his intellect in the temple. We too have the experience of study and discernment in community.  

Jesus, a person in a human body, spent years in a ministry of healing and feeding bodies, created and loved by God, and we follow his example in our care for and relationships with all manner of folks whose bodies and spirits long for wholeness. Jesus also allowed his body and spirit rest, and like him we seek solace and sabbath.  

Finally Jesus submitted his body to a violent and painful death in his dedication to God’s reign, to the power of love and justice. And finally finally his body was resurrected. Jesus’ body mattered in death and its resurrection mattered to the lives of his disciples. Paul emphasizes how Jesus appeared to his disciples, taught and shared. He breathed and ate. 

That continued integration of Spirit and body matters a lot to Paul. In a time when there was an expectation of imminent triumphant return and the gathering up of all our transformed bodies into an eternal realm. Though even he admits that it is a mystery!

And now we have some information now that Paul didn’t have: Christ did not return within Paul’s lifetime so that he could be transformed in body. We don’t have evidence or certainty about what will happen to our skin and bones and organs after life leaves them. I don’t know where my body will be after death, nor in that coming day, though I want to believe that somehow I will be joined with my creator.  

I do know where my living body is now. Here in the flesh with other bodies. In all our shapes and sizes and abilities, all our strengths and our frailties. God bods. Each living creature is and has a God bod - created by and filled with God’s spirit. Our bodies are beloved.  May we care for them (including our own) with tenderness and compassion. Amen.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *