“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” - Jeremiah 31:33
Lent is a time in which we face the reality of our own mortal frailty. We begin the season off by reminding one another that we are made of dust, and that one day we will die and our bodies will return back to the ground. In this earthy, gritty reality we are recalling the images we know from the Genesis 1 creation story - God takes a little bit of earth and infuses it with God’s own spirit, breathing humankind into life. Human beings are both earth/body/flesh, and also soul/spirit/breath.
In this penitential and reflective season, one way to conceptualize sin is to think of it as a violent ripping apart of spirit and body. Humans were created to be a whole being, both spirit and body, Heaven and Earth, inseparable from each other. Yet there are forces that cause us to be alien and detached from our own bodies - forces like White Supremacy, Capitalism, and the Cis-hetero Patriarchy. These forces alienate us from ourselves and from one another by denigrating bodies. They tell us that bodies are worthy only because of what that they can produce. They tell us that bodies that are white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight, male should have control and dominion over other bodies. It is because of this alienation from our bodies and from the holiness of other bodies that we are also alienated from our very souls.
We know in Exodus 20 when God gives us the 10 Commandments, God introduces them saying “I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of slavery in Egypt.” God’s very identity is centered in Liberation. God’s laws, therefore, are also centered on liberation by instructing us to order our relationships in a way that will set us free. When we hurt one another, we break the commandments of God who gave us Law in order to put us in right relationship with God and one another. Sinful forces like White Supremacy, Capitalism, and the Cis-Hetero Patriarchy serve to break down relationships because they do not honor the inherent dignity of our fellow humans. The way that this usually plays out is by denigration of bodies for the sake of selfish comforts.
This is why, in our lectionary reading in Jeremiah 31, when God is promising a new day that is coming, that the sacred wholeness that God describes is a reunion, a re-union of spirit and body. No longer shall the Law, the conceptualization of God’s Spirit of Right Relationships, be separate from bodies. God will transcribe God’s Spirit, God’s Law of Love and Liberation and Restored Relationships onto our bodies, on our very hearts.
We see a similar theme running through the lectionary reading this week in Psalm 51 where the Psalmist cries out for an embodied ritual that puts their body and spirit back into sync. The very cry of the Psalmist here points to this same idea of sinfulness as body and spirit alienated from one another. It is through reconnecting with the body via a ritual bath that the Psalmist can image their body, their very “bones” rejoicing. It is through the bathing, the sensory experience of perfume, that the Psalmist can imagine having God’s spirit restored to their body and sustaining their own spirit.
Note: preachers of this text might want to speak a little to the false equivalency in this text in verse 7 of purity and whiteness. These images have been used in our contemporary US culture to prop up White Supremacy.
As ministerial leaders in a sacramental tradition, we might want to remind our people that we have been given the gift of a ritual not unlike the ritual in the Psalm that cleanses our bodies and renew our Spirits (Holy Baptism). We also have an embodied, spiritual ritual that grants us union with God through God’s body and blood, broken and poured out for all (Holy Communion).
It is through our union with a God who reunifies our Spirits and Bodies that we are able to go into the world in true solidarity with one another. The Gospel reading for today in John 12 talks of a pathway towards solidarity for those of us who follow Jesus. Christ calls us to lose our lives for the sake of the other - to put our very bodies on the line for the sake of our neighbor, as Jesus would go on to do for our sake. Because the sin that hurts and divides us often targets the body of our neighbors, in order to resist this sin, we often have to put our bodies in the line of fire, putting our own lives at risk. This does not come easy to us. Our instinct is to protect ourselves for the sake of our own comfort and safety. Our culture tells us to use the bodies of vulnerable people as human shields. Yet Jesus reminds us that while trying to save our own bodies at the expense of our neighbors might make us feel safe in the short term, it is a shallow kind of safety. It is not the lasting path to liberation.
In trying to save ourselves, we feed into the very scarcity narrative that undergirds sinful systems like White Supremacy, Capitalism, and the Cis-hetero Patriarchy. These systems tell us that there is not enough, that we have to look out for ourselves, no matter what the cost might be to others. It is precisely because these systems operate under an anti-Gospel scarcity narrative that freely giving one’s life for the sake of solidarity with one’s neighbor is an act of stark resistance.
“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” - John 12:24-25
Or quoted in a different way on many protest signs, “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.”
Too often in our society and in our churches we ask marginalized people to sacrifice their bodies for our comfort. This can be seen in the way white people expect Black folks to continue to die at the hands of the state for the sake of white ideas of “security”. It can be seen by the way that we expect children to be slaughtered at the altar of the 2nd Amendment. It can be seen by the way we expect women, people of color, the poor to do hard manual labor for the benefit of white, wealthy people seeking luxury.
The Gospel opposes denigrating others’ bodies. The Gospel is opposed to human sacrifices for the sake of the comfort of a few. The Gospel says that it is by lying down one’s life for our neighbor (particularly our marginalized neighbor) and by resisting forces that would have us turn to self preservation and scarcity that we can begin to build and be a part of the restored and unified Body of Christ.