At the end of 2014 I arrived in New Zealand with my precious family, emotionally exhausted but filled with anticipation and excitement at the prospect of beginning a new journey in our new home country. Soon after arriving I began the daunting task of finding a job. I sent my CV far and wide to all manner of adverts. The response was underwhelming, to say the least. In fact, the only response was inviting me to an interview here at St Peter’s.
As a confirmed Anglican I felt comfortable with the idea of working in an Anglican environment. I realised quite quickly however, that I had much to learn. In South Africa, we referred to vicars as ‘Father’ – so in my mind I expected Father Gale of St Peter’s to be a comfortably rotund, elderly Kiwi gentlemen with white hair. Not Jonathan from Natal. At my interview Father Gale asked me what I considered to be the negatives I would be bringing to St Peter’s. All I could think was “What a peculiar question…!”
And here I am almost 4 years later not only able to throw narthex, chalice and ciborium into everyday conversation, but also able to measure time liturgically… Year B 30th Sunday in ordinary time… and I know what AAW, ATWC, BCP, ANZPB and HFTC stand for.
I really wrestled with what to say this morning and I have new respect for Jonathan writing sermons week after week! After much deliberation I settled on:
The human body of Jesus
If I were to ask you to picture Jesus what image comes to mind?
Do you think of baby Jesus in Mary’s arms…A crucified Jesus?…Maybe an ascending Jesus? I’m sure that I am not alone in finding a human image of Jesus easiest to call to mind.
On the office noticeboard, alongside my palm cross, I have a copy of this painting entitled “The Hand of God” by Yongsun Kim.
It has been my favourite image of Jesus from the moment I first saw it. I love the smile on the face of Jesus, and the way he is reaching towards me to help me out of a place where I might be feeling overwhelmed or sinking. I find it a wonderfully encouraging portrayal. Incredibly human and yet completely divine…
The Symbolic Body of Jesus
When I asked you to think of an image, I wonder if any of you thought of the communion elements…
In Luke 22: 19 we read
19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
We all know the response… we who are many are one body for we all partake of the one bread.
As we partake in the eucharist, sharing together symbolically in Jesus’ death through the blood and his life through the bread we are reconnecting, acknowledging our oneness with Jesus and remembering him.
Isn’t that a mystery? That our identity and our sense of belonging can come from symbolically sharing in Jesus’ body. A symbolic act that transcends culture, language and era. It is the mystery of being a part of something bigger than one parish, one country or even one century.
The Church as the body of Christ
Recently I came across another image of Jesus. It’s completely different.
Jesus’ face is made up of tiles of countless faces from countless eras all somehow coming together as one unified image – and yet each tile remaining completely unique and identifiable.
It is a mystical image of Jesus that really captures the reading from Romans:
4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
The Message version of the Romans passage says:
…we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvellously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be…
We are members of Christ’s body, the Church universal, stretching from age to age. One in Jesus and yet uniquely and wonderfully and individually created in the image of God and known by him.
I think that in our best moments we do touch something of the expansiveness and marvelousness of being a part of Jesus as “the holy catholic Church” to quote the creed.
However, it is easy to focus in on the functions that we do, and it is easy to keep busy with the doing. And replace the term “body of Christ” with “the church”.
We take the mystery out of that expansive “body of Christ” when we replace it with “the Church”. We all have a tendency to trim down what we mean by “the church” to focus on our own denomination, and then even more narrowly on our particular church.
When we see the body of Christ in this limited way that wonderful promise in Romans of being excellently formed and marvellously functioning parts loses its impact, and our “functions” become just another activity:
…baking, weeding, knitting, gardening, flower arranging, singing, speaking, reading, cleaning, putting up signs … and the list goes on. It becomes a bit of a tiring image, burdensome even.
And after nearly 4 years amongst you, this brings me to my final thought on the image of Jesus. The image that I want to leave with you.
US as the image of Jesus
In the beginning when I asked you to picture Jesus, I wonder How many of you would have thought of yourself as an image of Jesus?
How many of you thought of the person next to you as an image of Jesus?
And most profoundly of all how many of us ever consider the fact that Jesus is alive because we are alive. We are the living, breathing body of Jesus in the world.
It’s easy to dismiss this. It is easy to think that we don’t measure up, that our contribution isn’t making any difference. Or that somehow being the body of Christ is written about someone else. I know that this can start to sound theologically fringe, so I will give you a simple example to illustrate what I mean:
Just recently, at a chaplaincy meeting one of the older ladies looked quite tired, so when it was tea time I offered to bring her a cup of tea. This was no great event – I was making tea for myself anyway. I didn’t think anything more of it until after the meeting when she came to me in tears. She told me that my cup of tea had touched her deeply because no one had made her tea in years. I knew that God had used my cup of tea to meet with her. I felt incredibly humbled – because I had done nothing except be me. I had been Jesus to her without even realising it.
The Spanish nun St Teresa of Avila is, I am sure, well known to many of you, as well as the poem “Christ has no body”, which is attributed to her:
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
What if, despite ourselves, we really were to believe that we are Jesus’ body on earth…Jesus’ living, breathing, loving body? Fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image, unique in space and time and yet a part of a mysterious whole transcending space and time. Intimately known by God, and called by name. Surely this image would fragment our ways of seeing ourselves, each other, our world and God?
Look down at your hands…move your toes…awkwardly look into the eyes of the person sitting next to you.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours…
I would like to extend St Teresa’s poem to say:
Yours are the hands that lovingly make tea and coffee to comfort those who mourn
Yours are the hands that tenderly share the body and blood of Christ, that hold the hand of a friend, a child, a grandchild that is ill or troubled
Yours are the eyes that weep with those that weep, that gaze with compassion on the pain of others
Yours are the eyes that sparkle with joy at the good news shared with you
Yours are the ears that listen with patience and grace to countless stories of countless lives
Yours are the voices that speak words of encouragement, rebuke, teaching, love
The voices that tell tales of life and love and loss bringing healing and hope through the sharing
Yours are the hearts aching for an adult child that is struggling, or a spouse that is ill
Jesus has no hands, no eyes, no voice, no heart on earth but yours and mine. Together we are Jesus body on earth
It changes everything when we begin to see ourselves and each other in this way.
It is miraculous.
What an image of Jesus!
If someone had told me that one day I would be standing in front of you like this, I would have never believed it.
I would never have imagined how much a part of the St Peter’s family I would become
Or how hard it is for me to leave
Thank you for the 100s of cups of tea and coffee you have made me (and bought me), the tasty goodies you have fed me
Thank you for telling me that I look far too young to have adult daughters
and for pointing out when the grey in my hair needs touching up
Thank you for the gifts I have received over the years…candles, books, hand creams, lipstick, marmalades, jams, mince pies, chocolates, coat hangers, gift vouchers, turkeys, bunches of flowers
Thank you for the visits, emails, messages and cards too numerous to count – little words of encouragement or thanks which have made such a difference
Thank you for entrusting me with your pain and your problems
Thank you for the wisdom that so many of you have shared with me through your stories of lives of hardship and pain which radiate with faith and hope and love despite it all.
Thank you for the generosity, love and acceptance you have shown me
You have been the living, breathing, loving Jesus to me.
Let us pray:
Lord what a marvellous mysterious privilege to be your hands, your feet, your eyes, your heart your body in our world
Thank you that you only call us to be just who you made us to be.
Help us to be mindful of this – in ourselves and in each other.
Lord, as I go from St Peter’s
I give you thanks for the countless lessons I have learned here
Thank you for the encouragement I have received in all the stories of hope and of faith
Thank you for the example I have seen in the steadfast serving of you in this parish
I pray that you would touch each heart here with the knowledge of your love and the mystery of our belonging.
Heal those that need your healing
Encourage those that need your encouragement
Bind up those that are broken-hearted with your mercy and your love
Bring peace to those that are in turmoil and restoration to those that are in conflict
Spark faith in the hearts of those where the spark has grown dim
Thank you Lord for this precious, precious group of people
And for the blessing of my time spent amongst them.
In Jesus’ name I pray
Readings for today:
- Romans 12: 1- 8
- Luke 22: 14 -20
- Genesis 1: 26-27, 31