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On Bodies, The Eucharist, and Skydiving

07/02/2013 03:34 pm ET | Updated Sep 01, 2013

At the heart of Christian witness and practice is this joyful reality: matter matters. Jesus' itinerant zigzagging across the diverse terrain of first century Palestine gives Gospel readers a glimpse into the centrality of physical matter and human bodies to Jesus' project of reclaiming creation for the good purposes of Israel's God. John's Gospel launches, of all places, in the middle of a large, raucous wedding celebration. In the middle of this most human of gatherings, the wine runs out. In a moment of prophetic wisdom, Jesus' mother, Mary, encourages Jesus to practice a sign of God's imminent reign: transforming water into wine. Jesus, initially hesitant, follows his mother's suggestion and transforms matter for the sake of God's reign.

Of interest to Christians living in an era of unprecedented ecological imbalance and abuse is Jesus' treatment of those bodies of water. He takes them, infuses them with love and blessing, and then offers them to the assembled wedding party as wine. The water-turned-to-wine, is, at its core, a commentary on the way in which God intends on using God's creation: for humanity's sacred enjoyment. Notice, though, that Jesus does not offer an idea for the enjoyment of the wedding party. Neither does he offer a doctrine for the enjoyment of the wedding party. Jesus offers a thing, wine, for the mutual joy and celebration of the crowd. In every one of the four Gospels, Jesus heals and restores human bodies. Whether he was feeding 5,000 hungry people or restoring a man's withered hand, Jesus was always illustrating the significance of human wholeness in God's intention to draw every person (and the whole cosmos) into Love.

In the middle of all of this wholeness and restoration and goodness is an important reality to not be overlooked: God's love does not exist without bodies. One of the daunting challenges of contemporary Christian life is resisting the corporate commodification of human bodies. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus treats human bodies as conduits of esteem, not as commodities of empire. In an era of human objectification, Jesus stands out for his practice of treating people as subjects of God's narrative of love. Even in the Last Supper, Jesus engages his disciples in an exercise of physicality. He offers thanks for bread and wine and distributes it to them, telling them to eat the bread and drink the wine in his memory.

Every time the people of God gather at God's table to give thanks, retell the story of our liberation from sin, receive Christ in bread and wine, and offer his reconciling love to all people, we are doing a very human, physical thing. The next time you receive the Eucharist, try erasing the memory of its flavor from your taste buds. The next time you receive Christ's fragmented body in your hands, try forgetting the sensation of Jesus on your skin. The next time you look another human being in they eyes, try not seeing the image of God in her or him. The Eucharist is a very physical way of participating in the Divine Dance. In it, stumbling human feet seek to learn, imagine, and practice what it may look like to truly live and love in the way of Jesus. Will we execute every dance move flawlessly? No. Do we dance like we have two left feet? Probably. Is God a patient dance instructor? Thankfully, yes.

The virtualization and industrialization of the modern world can become fortresses that separate us from own embodiment. So, my challenge (as an unabashed virtual junkee) to you and myself is this: do. Take a run. Write a letter. Go for a swim. Spend an excessive amount of money and take a skydiving lesson. Live in your body. Remember your incarnation. Remember that God made you as a subject of love, not as an object of commercialization.

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