Saturday, 24 March 2012

Lent Meditation - Denial of the body

'For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves.'

Talk of denial of the body in Lent, may well evoke images of fasting, of 'giving up' bodily pleasures for a time of prayer. (The Saints of the church always remind us that fasting without prayer is the devil's own work, so to speak)  But for now that is what is not what I wish to explore - there is yet time as Lent still has a few days to run.

Nor do I wish to think too deeply about our disembodied existence in modern culture. If it is true that the average Westerner spends at least ten hours a day sat, as I am now, in front of a screen, then our bodies are little less than a set of levers with which we interact Virtually, and then only if we are working or 'interacting' online. If we are sat in front of a movie or the TV then our bodies are pretty much out of it. Indeed our flicking of the remote from station to station is only a sign that our minds and the chemical reward signals that do so much of the driving of our minds are in control. Our bodies are all but useless.

And yet we Are in a very real sense, our bodies. As we are we Act. Whatever we do is somehow bodily, and we can only engage others through the medium of our bodies, our bodies Express us. We need to be physically present to be Alive. It is an irreducible fact.
             In the beginning the man and the woman were naked and unashamed. they were Present. Knowing and Fully Known. So When Christ comes into the world he comes Embodied, for the Body is the vehicle of Knowing and being Known. How would we for a moment recognise each other apart from our bodies?

This leads me on, perhaps surprisingly to The Church. For many of us in the Western Church, the Church itself has been largely understood, for better or worse as an aid to faith - but that encounter with God in Christ was somehow separate. We see the church as one thing and Christ as another. And of course in one sense this is true, but only I suggest in the sense that the Son is not the Father, nor the Father the Son. In a sense we may I think speak of the relationship betwixt Christ and His Church as 'two in one and one in two' (to misquote an old hymn). Too much?? Certainly to the modern ear, Yes. But to our forebears in faith??

St Paul in his teaching on marriage puts alongside the one flesh union of marriage, the union twixt Christ and the Church, the bride of Christ - the two become One. And of course he is explicit in this regard in his teaching in 1 Corinthians - You Are the Body of Christ. He paints this at the individual level by saying, 'it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.' This presence of God in and through the believers is most starkly put in the story of Anaias and Sapphira - (Acts 5:1-11), where Peter rebukes their deceit to the church as deceit to God

And finally we have the words of the Lord - 'when two or three are gathered in my name, I am Present in the midst of them'

The truth is that we encounter Christ in and through our fellow believers - as Jacob said of Esau 'truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God' - this is no less than that which our true apprehension should be of our fellow Christians. They are God's chosen vehicle to mediate the Love of Christ. We see this plainly in the idea of laying on of hands, such a vital part of Christian praxis. The body of the believer is literally Vital in prayer, in healing ministry, in blessing, in ordination, in baptism and confirmation, in the Eucharist. 

The verse at the head of this article, taken from St Paul's teaching on the Eucharist. Tuned as we are to doctrines of the Presence in the Sacrament, it is all too easy to miss that what Paul has in mind here is as much the body of the church. Put another way, if you do not recognise Christ in each other, then you do not recognise him in bread and wine.

Where accidents of church history and poor teaching have led so many of us to deny this truth, 
it is still the truth and our fellow believers are to us as Christ, if we will believe.

And therein lies so much blessing.

In my previous blog I spoke about following Christ. How we do this is actually discovered in many many ways though mutual submission to one another in Christ. We learn obedience to Christ in obedience to one another. We serve Christ in serving one another. We bless Christ in blessing one another. We suffer with Christ in suffering for one another.

Oh how much our lives might be blessed if we Knew this Truth?

An old hymn which grows out of an understanding the Christ and his church are Not joined together in mystical union says this . . .

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Yet as many many many will testify, we take things to the Lord in prayer and yet we have no peace and we have much pain - for we do not discern the body.

As of old, it is pride that causes us to hide from one another. 
We imagine we are open to God, but we do not trust God in one another

Do we know His Presence in the body?

It is in the touch of another that is the touch of Christ - the One who calls us back to ourselves, our bodies and the more certain and sure presence of God

This is one denial we need to give up for Lent
And beyond . . .

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