Lately I’ve been thinking about the human body.
How we honor it and treat it.
I recently watched as a friend was carefully and tenderly washed as they prepared to die.
It was beautiful.
I’ve been thinking of the tradition of the Pieta in painting and sculpture, of Mary tenderly caring for the body of Jesus. Pieta is an interesting word, with several layers of meaning. I think at its root it means making an offering to God, the offering, of Jesus’ body and of Mary tending that body.
The human body is a sacred thing.
It isn’t a mere mortal coil to be shuffled off as Shakespeare’s Hamlet soliloquizes.
It is holy.
Even in death our mortal remains are treated differently, set apart, like the sacraments, like the blessed bread and wine, like the blessed water of baptism.
Once blessed they are set apart, to be used or disposed of reverently.
We reserve the sacrament in the ambry up behind the altar.
The human body is like that, a reserve sacrament, revealing God’s image, even in death.
Our remains go into hallowed earth.
The Bishop recently reminded the clergy that the bodily remains of the dead are to be present at their burial liturgies if at all possible. Our culture has been sliding into burial liturgies where the body is sometimes absent for the sake of convenience. The Bishop has reminded us otherwise.
The body counts.
Some people say that the burial liturgy is for the living, for the family, but it is more than that, it is to honor the bodies of the dead as they are set apart. The mortal remains are holy. Not empty shells. A remainder and reminder of the breath of God.
We honor the bodies of our dead, not just their memory.
It isn’t a memorial, it honors the body of the dead, for what it was and for what it will be again.
The temple of Jesus body. In John’s Gospel, it is the epicenter of God’s presence in the history of creation, it ripples out from this body.
Destroy that temple and it will rise up again in three days.
The body is holy, it is the temple of God.
The big questions are asked in Lent. Will the Messiah suffer? He is tempted to not suffer.
And why? Why must Jesus suffer and die?
We try to make it make sense, or we try to dismiss it, explain it away as an unfortunate and unnecessary consequence of human evil.
All our attempts to explain or dismiss the death of Jesus, they have the feel of throwing lots of words around in desperation, sort of the theological equivalent of man-splaining.
Paul says it best, it is simply God’s foolishness, which is wiser than our wisdom.
Why suffer? Why die? Why does the Messiah have to suffer and die? It is foolishness. But it is God’s foolishness.
The body will be dishonored and shamed and discarded. But that body will bring back honor and life to humanity.
The temple will be desecrated.
And the temple will be raised up.
Suffering and death are not the end.
But they are also inevitable.
Both the suffering of the daily decline of being mortal and the suffering of evil with which we afflict one another, they are unavoidable.
Jesus was tempted to simply fix things, to avoid the indignity and invasiveness of pain and death.
The messiah chose rather the path of the cross.
Of the body being torn down and raised up.
It is a hard gospel to live with and to proclaim, not the Jesus of the quick fix, but the Jesus of the cross.
The Pieta, the offering up of tenderness for The Body of Jesus and for these bodies which find honor and dignity especially in decline and pain.
May we wash one another in that honor.