“Christ has no body now but ours…”

A sermon, based on John 14.23-29, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 6th Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019

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Teresa of Avila, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), 1615, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Words attributed to Teresa of Ávila,(1) the 16th century Spanish saint and mystic, serve as an Eastertide meditation on the Christian life:

Christ has no body now but ours.
No hands, no feet on earth but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.
Ours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Ours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Ours are his hands, his feet, his eyes. We are his body.

Jesus, crucified, raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, now, on earth, has us. We’re it! A point reflected in today’s gospel passage.

However, before getting to it, I digress, for three reasons.

First, our gospel, removed, uprooted from its context, begins rather oddly: “Jesus answered him…”

Second, the gospel passage, in your bulletin insert, reads, “Jesus said to Judas (not Iscariot).” The replacement of the word “answered” with “said” and the identification of the person to whom Jesus spoke are necessary for our reading and listening comprehension.

Third, as an aside, Jesus had two disciples named Judas; Judas son of Simon Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, and this Judas son of James.(2)

Now, as Jesus answered Judas son of James, it begs the question: What did Judas son of James ask Jesus?

On the night before his arrest and trial, crucifixion and death, Jesus prepared his disciples for life without him. Of the many things he taught them, one was the connection between loyalty and love: “They who…keep my commandments are those who love me…and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”(3) Judas asked, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” In other words, Jesus, is the revelation, your revelation of who you are only for us, your disciples, or for everyone? And if your revelation is for everyone how will it be revealed and by whom?

Now, let us listen again to Teresa of Ávila:

Christ has no body now but ours
Ours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion…
the feet with which he walks to do good…
the hands through which he blesses all the world…
We are his body.

Big job? Yes! Impossible job? Yes! So, has Jesus set us up to fail? No! (Though a cursory glance at the history of Christianity and the countless acts of violence, replicating the crucifixion, committed by Christians against others, demonstrates there is plenty of failure to go around! But it ain’t Jesus’ fault!) For “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name (and, for us, already has sent!), will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

The Holy Spirit, God’s indwelling(4) presence, inspires, inspirits us, breathes in us the peace of Jesus. The shalom of God. That sense of wholeness, wellness, rightness with God that encourages us, empowers us, despite our sinfulness, to speak and act as Jesus in this world.

So, continuing our Eastertide meditation on the, our Christian life, I ask: What does it mean for us to be Christ’s body, hands, feet, eyes. To put this another way, paraphrasing Judas’ question to Jesus: How will we, how do we reveal Christ to others and to the world?

I never will ask of you what I will not do. So, this is my answer. Every day, though, yes, I fail, yet, trusting in the Holy Spirit’s presence and power, I strive to do, to be unconditional and impartial love and justice, benevolence and fairness toward all.

That’s what it is for me. What is it for you? For Christ has no body now but ours. We are his body.

 
Footnotes:
(1) Teresa of Ávila (March 28, 1515-October 4, 1582). Note: I have modified Saint Teresa’s words. Where she employed “yours,” as in “Christ has no body now but yours,” etc., I, for the purposes of amplifying what I see and believe to be the heart of Christianity as an incarnational religion (that is, the Spirit of God not only taking flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, but also in us), I use “ours.”
(2) See Luke 6.16 and Acts 1.13
(3) John 14.21a,c
(4) Regarding the nature of God’s empowering presence within us, I refer to Jesus’ testimony: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…(whom you know)…because he abides with you, and he will be in you (John 14.15-17a, c) (emphasis, mine).
Illustration: Teresa of Ávila (1615), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

8 thoughts on ““Christ has no body now but ours…”

  1. I love this measured, principled challenge, Paul. And I love the idea of OUR being the eyes, the ears, the hands, the feet, indeed, the mind and heart of Christ on earth, that that, no less, is the legacy of the faith and power Jesus left us with, or perhaps better said, the legacy in which he abides in us and we in him. If we were able to live that truth day by day, what transformation would be possible.

    Thank you once again for stirring the pot, rousing the mind, and awakening the heart, Paul.

    Love, Karen

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  2. Thank you sooo much for this Paul! I wish a lot of young people would read this. We are all so body focused at times, and on social media many people are body shamed…. But how many of us have actually asked ourselves what would it look and feel like if we were in Christ’s body???? And / or … what if we weren’t focused at all on what Christ looked like if we were the ones representing his body, eyes and feet? It’s such a great thought for us to just focus ONLY on representing Christ BECAUSE he no longer has a body. We want people to feel the words and deeds and the unconditional love WITHOUT observing or focusing on the body of the deliverer.
    I have to be really honest here about an experience I had in Maine that I shared on Facebook. I went to a really out of the way campground in order to meet Ed and Lynn. I was skeptical because there was only electricty avail…. no sewer and water and that sounds too remote and primative to me. BUT she convinced me to come because she was one of the most pleasant people I had ever talked to on the phone. When I arrived she rushed out of her booth, and yelled out, “you must be Loretta” with her arms wide open…. it struck me of being God like, welcoming the stranger… I’m in the middle of nowhere with a woman running towards me like she’s thrilled to meet me just because I’m another human being. She told me all about she and her husband and how they built their campground with their own two hands, chopping down trees etc. I was astounded. She wanted people to LOVE her campground, her family and themselves. For it to be a place where people could explore nature that was minimally compromised etc… We talked from the time I got there until Ed drove up to get me, about an hour. I felt that this woman was God-like… She didn’t care what color I was, or what I had on, or what I did for a living. She loved me because I came into her place and she wanted me to feel loved, and special. That night in my RV, I thought about my own encounters with new people I came in contact with. Had I been God-like with them? Did I welcome the stranger or just go along with my normal day to day?? My encounter with her made me want to interact more authentically other than the just “how are you?” that we usually greet people with. Her name is Lori, and in all honesty she is one of the people closest to the image of God that I have in my mind. I’m having a pretty bad day, and originally intended to read this sermon tomorrow. I’m thrilled that I changed my mind.. I immediately thought back to Lori… her using her hands to build something special without destroying the environment, and feet which run to great the tired and weary and the most compassionate eyes I’ve ever seen. Then I went back and read a few emails I received from 3 of my students in the term that ended May 17th. They all pointed out how incredible I am as a teacher and that I use my hands, feet and eyes to make them feel as if they can be anything they want. I’ve said ALL THIS to say that by you asking that question of us, it forces us to think about all the things we can do to use our bodies more effectively and efficiently to do Christ’s work. You’ve made my really crappy day much better. I have something else to focus on besides myself and I thank you for that!
    Much love

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  3. Loretta, Lord, have blessed mercy! Your encounter with Lori IS the sermon, for your telling of it preaches!

    Love

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    1. I told Lori about you (her husband’s name is Paul too) and Pontheolla and how you built up Clevedale!! I showed her pics and she was really impressed. I’m thrilled that I met this woman…. she makes me want to meet so many other Christ-like people!! Amazing!!

      Love you too!

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  4. Karen, I am reaffirmed in my sense, my belief that Christianity is an incarnational religion, that is, that it’s heart and soul is a story about God’s Spirit (aye, God who is Spirit) taking flesh in Jesus of Nazareth and, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, taking flesh in us. If Christianity isn’t about that – for I am prepared to accept that my view is in error – then, for me, it is about nothing.

    Love

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  5. Loretta, as I continue to ruminate on your encounter with Lori, I believe that whatever you took and have taken away from your meeting regarding your discernment that she is a Christ-like soul, doubtless, Lori discerned the same of and about you!
    Love

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    1. Thank you Paul!! YES I too believe that Lori felt the same about me! When Lori’s Mom Carol came to the camp office, she joined our “family” conversation it was revealed that one of their neighbor’s husband has dementia. I made some suggestions that may help their neighbor and said I would send copies of my books to them and to Lori and her Mom when I returned home, which I did on Tuesday!! I believe I was destined to meet these folks and vice versa….

      Much love!

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  6. Clearly, the sharing of Christ-like love continues!

    Brava!

    Love

    Like

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