These Bodies

These Bodies

Crucifixes used to creep me out. I admit it. Probably because I grew up in a faith tradition that put a lot of emphasis on “He’s not on the cross anymore!” as a way of deliberately frowning upon any cross that had a representation of Christ on it. That’s wrong was very clear in the teaching.

So when we started attending a Catholic church, the crucifixes…yeah, let’s say I just averted my eyes. For a while. Until I began to understand why it was so important to remember that Christ suffered. So that it was always before us in our suffering. So that we didn’t have to say, “No, I’m fine. No, I’m not grieving. No, I’m not hurting. Of course I believe! The cross is empty!” and instead we can say, “Lord, unite my suffering to your own. Give it meaning, as yours had. Take it, redeem it, and in turn give it your redemptive power.”

When you enter into a Catholic church before Mass, there’s no babble of voices or laughter or gossip. There are people sitting or kneeling quietly, with their eyes affixed to the cross (there are plenty of “empty” ones too). To the crucifix (there’s always one in the front). “Contemplate the crucifix” was instruction my husband received for what to do in those silent minutes.

It was a challenge for me. But one that made some pretty profound truths settle in my soul. Truths that I’m now clinging to as my own body goes through its own journey of suffering. Cancer may not be the same cross Jesus suffered. But it’s a cross. And it’s suffering. And as I gaze upon that reminder of what He already went through for me, it’s how I know He’ll use this for His glory too.

Just think for a moment about these frail human bodies we occupy. We may tell ourselves that the real us, our souls, are not our bodies, and that’s how we live forever–spiritually, our souls in heaven. And that’s true…in part. But it’s not the whole truth, is it? We are each given a unique body, and it is not only ours, it is us, in a very real way. A very material way. We are not just spirit–we are spirit and body. We are a creation that God made to have both spirit and body.

When He sent Christ among us, it wasn’t just as spirit. This was actually one of the great heresies in the early church, with people claiming He wasn’t really flesh. He didn’t cast a shadow. He didn’t leave footprints. Because flesh, they said, was all evil. Spirit is all good. So a perfect Savior couldn’t have a physical body like we do.

But oh, how wrong that was. We know that Jesus went out of His way to let people touch Him. Feel Him.

God became man. He took on flesh, just like ours. Flesh that grew in His mother’s womb, cell by cell. Flesh that came forth from her body with the same fluids as any other baby. Flesh that grew, learned how to suckle, how to speak, how to crawl and walk and laugh and play. Flesh that needed food and drink. Flesh that bled when cut.

Flesh that He told us would be offered to us in bread. In wine. Flesh that became bread. Became wine, so that we could share in it through the ages.

Flesh that He let be bruised, beaten, battered for us. Flesh that was torn by a whip. Flesh that had nails put through it. Flesh that suffocated on the cross. Flesh that collapsed in agony.

He felt that. Every strike of the whip. Every poke of the thorn. Every hammer of the nail. He felt it. He chose to feel it. He refused the drugged wine that would have dulled his senses. That bodily part mattered. It was through His precious body that mankind was freed from our sin. He didn’t make a symbolic, spiritual sacrifice. He made a complete one–body, soul, mind, spirit.

Just think about it. Jesus chose to fully feel that pain for you, in every cell of His body. In the same body He offered in the bread hours before.

The same body that grew in His mother. The same body that reached out and healed blind men with a touch, gave voice to the mute, restored a paralytic. The same body that walked across water, that spoke the words to calm a storm or return life to a dead man.

That’s the body He gave to us in Holy Communion. The one that hung on the cross. The one that died. The one that was buried in a tomb. The one that lay there, dead, over the Sabbath.

Do you want to know how much Jesus valued that body? Enough that He came back for it. Enough that He raised that same body up again–still with the holes in His hands, His feet, His side. Still able to be touched, to be fed, to be clung to. (Ever wonder where all He went between the resurrection and ascension? He only appeared a handful of times to the disciples. What else was He doing in His resurrected body? Where did He go? Who did He talk to?) That body meant so much to Him that He took it with Him into heaven.

So much that He shares it with us still, even today. Every time we partake of His Flesh, of His Blood. He’s still there in heaven, in His body, and that resurrected body is still present with us on earth every time we share in Holy Communion.

That means that His powerful, death-defying, resurrected body is in me. Just a little bit, when I take that wafer. 

You know what that means? That my body matters too. This is the one God gave to me, with all its quirks. For whatever reason, He created us to have minds that think, hearts that feel, souls that chase after Him, and bodies in which He can live. Paul doesn’t tell us we are temples just as encouragement to eat healthy food and exercise. He tells us we are temples because God lives inside us when we open the door for Him, when we share in that blessed sacrament, when we unite ourselves to Him.

But not just to His glory. To His suffering too. We can’t forget that. It’s as crucial a part of the faith as the resurrection. He had to suffer. He had to die. He had to rise again. It all matters.

In my time of suffering, I can look at His and know it matters. I can look at His and know it’s already been redeemed. I can look at His and be reminded that that same body is both in heaven and poured out for me. For my healing. For my strength. But also just to hold my hand through the bad parts. I don’t have to deny them. I don’t have to be stoic. I don’t have to pretend everything’s okay.

I can say, “Even when it isn’t. Even when it hurts. Even when things go wrong. Even when our bodies fail. Even when we’re sick. Even then…even then, He is God. Even then, He knows. Even then, He holds our hand with His own, nail-pierced one. Even then, He is with us. Even then, He says, ‘It matters. I know. And together, we are going to do great things. Even now, when you are so weak. I AM strong.”

* Please note that this is an affiliate link. See disclaimer in the footer.

Word of the Week – Prestigious

Word of the Week – Prestigious

I imagine that, like me, you think prestigious means “honored.” And it does…today. But it started life in a very different place!

Prestigious actually comes from the Latin praestigious, meaning “full of tricks.” Think magician shows and jugglers and sword-swallowers, etc. It’s thought that the Latin word is closely related to praestringere, which means “to blindfold, to dazzle.” Anything that was a trick of the eyes–or which perhaps would make you doubt what you were seeing, it was so spectacular, was called prestigious.

That’s where it began in English too, meaning “practicing illusion or magic, deception.” Up until the 1800s, this was a word that was most often used in a derogatory fashion, much like trick today. And then, by the 1890s, it was actually considered an obsolete word, no longer in use. (Fascinating, isn’t it?)

But around 1913, it was given new life, with all illusory implications removed, just as prestige was as well. The dazzle without the deception, so to speak. Which is what it still means today.

Word Nerds Unite!

Read More Word of the Week Posts

The Passover Seder

The Passover Seder

Today I’m talking about what the Jewish Passover Seder was in the time of Christ, and how it had evolved out of the instruction given to Israel at the first Passover…and more, how that was the perfect backdrop to the ultimate work of salvation—Jesus’s institution of Holy Communion, which started at the Last Supper but was not completed until His death on the cross. This is part of a series I’ve been doing based on Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre*. First I talked about the Daily Bread, then about why the Passover was the perfect backdrop for Jesus’s New Covenant…which is to say, we looked at that original covenant, and last week I paused to examine the relationship of Jesus and Traditions, so that we can understand that He did not dismiss all manmade traditions—there are many He kept and fulfilled.

Including what we are talking about today: the Passover Seder.

In Exodus, we get the original instructions for the original Passover, as well as a command to keep this forever as a holy day, which I talked about in post 2, linked above, Why the Passover. But by the time Jesus walked the earth, those traditions had evolved, as traditions always do. As we go through what it became, keep in mind that Jesus kept this Feast all His life, and He did so with reverence, which is a heavenly blessing upon it.

Jerusalem was the only place where sacrifices could be made in the time of Christ, so anyone who wished to participate in any of the feasts and festivals that require sacrifice had to travel to Jerusalem. Passover was the one that drew the most people, and in this era, hundreds of thousands of lambs would be sacrificed during the feast.

Think about that for a second. Hundreds of thousands. There were so many that they couldn’t all be sacrificed on one day anymore, so they spread it out. Those who were Israel-dwelling Jews would have their lambs sacrificed on Thursday; those who had settled abroad or who were converted to Judaism from the gentile world would have their sacrificed on Friday.

Ever wonder why the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all specify that it was during the Passover meal—for which their own lamb would have been sacrificed that day—was when Jesus instituted the Last Supper, yet John specifies that Christ was killed when the lambs were being sacrificed? That’s why. And it’s really cool, if you think about it. Jesus offered himself not just for the Jews, but for the whole world, and it was at the very hour of that sacrifice-for-the-world that He gave up His own life. I mean, wow, right?

Anyway. Back to the Seder. When the lambs were sacrificed in the Temple, it had become such a big to-do that they had an assembly line, more or less. So much blood ran out of the temple and into the river that the river ran red. The lambs had to be roasted whole, but blood was of course strictly forbidden for consumption by the Law, so they would hang the sacrificed lambs much like butchers still do today to let the blood drain out…only, they would position the lambs on a cross. They even referred to them in this state as crucified.

Lambs, sacrificed and crucified, for the salvation of the people.

The meal was no longer just some slap-dash unleavened bread and the lamb though. Ceremony had evolved to remind the people about the entire exodus story. Every seder meal included a dish of salt water—the tears of the enslaved people; bitter herbs—to remind of the bitterness of those days; the unleavened bread, of which a piece would be hidden for the children to find; charoset—a “clay” of apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon that is reminiscent of mortar or bricks, as a reminder of the labor done in Egypt; a roasted egg—symbol of new life; a bone from the sacrificed lamb that would be eaten; and “four cups” of wine.

That’s important. The wine was to be drunk at key points in the meal, each one significant—so much so that there was a Law at this point in time guaranteeing everyone, no matter how poor, enough wine for all four cups of the feast.

At the start of the meal, a child would ask a ritual series of “why?” questions, asking why they eat a meal like this, and the patriarch of the family would answer…speaking in first person. “It is because of what the Lord our God did for me when He led me out of Egypt.”

Side note here. While I was studying the book about this, I was also reading in the Gospels, and I read the part where Jesus promises freedom, and some of the religious leaders reply (Roseanna paraphrase here), “Freedom? We are children of Abraham! We were never slaves, so we don’t need to be freed.”

Reading that at the same time when I was reading the chapter about how the very words of the Seder had been written so that every generation was called to remember that God had freed them from the bonds of slavery in Egypt, I had a new understanding of why the claim grieved Jesus so. Every year, they repeated these words. But clearly they hadn’t taken them to heart. The hadn’t remembered who they really were, and what it really meant to be a child of Abraham.

Okay, back to the wine. 😉 First is the Cup of Sanctification or Thanksgiving, remembering God’s promise to deliver His people. Next was the Cup of Judgment, remembering the plagues, during which one would dip one’s finger into the cup ten times, reciting the plagues as the wine dripped onto a napkin.

After the second cup, the meal is eaten. The final part of the meal involved lifting up the unleavened bread, breaking it, and passing it around. That was when Jesus “broke the bread, blessed it, and said, ‘This is my body, broken for you…’” Immediately after that comes the third cup, the Cup of Blessing. This is the one Jesus lifted and said, “This is my blood.”

Notice His wording. He did not say of the bread and wine, “These are symbols to remind you of my body and blood, which I’m about to give up for you.” He said This is.

He is the Word. The very Word of creation. When the Word of Creation says “This is…” He means it. There are plenty of times when He made it clear that things were symbolic. When He said, “The Kingdom of God is like…” But that’s not what He did here. He did something more. Something miraculous. He pointed to bread and wine—two ordinary things, yet rich in meaning in this context—and made them something miraculous.

Then comes something very important as well. The Fourth Cup, which is the Cup of Praise or Consummation. They lift the cup and sing a psalm—which we know Jesus did.

But He didn’t drink it. They left. They went out to the garden to pray at that point, with Jesus claiming He would not drink of the fruit of the vine again until He’d done so in His kingdom.

What is the significance of that?

The Feast never ended. He stretched it out, kept it moving with Him through the next day. When He was being crucified at the start, they offered Him wine, which He refused—that wine would have mixed with herbs that drugged the senses and lessened the pain of crucifixion, which was considered a humane thing to do for convicts.

He refused. He refused to lessen His suffering for us. He refused that wine, because His kingdom had not yet come. The Passover celebration, His sacrifice, was not yet complete.

But John makes it very clear that the very last act He did as He hung on the cross was drink wine, offered to him on a branch of hyssop—the very branch God commanded they use to smear the blood of the original Passover lambs onto their doorposts. He drank. He finished that Fourth Cup, the Cup of consummation—the cup of the new covenant. He said, “It is finished,” signaling that He was now fulfilling all the Passover ever meant to foreshadow, that He was making this new covenant in His own blood, consummating it as eternal praise, and that this was the coming of His kingdom.

And then He died. The Passover Seder was completed, not in the Upper Room, but on the cross. For the salvation not just of Israel but of the world. He had fulfilled and redeemed that original covenant and then offered us a new one.

But do you remember what I talked about in part 2? The covenant wasn’t created just by the sacrifice. It wasn’t enough to kill the lamb. You had to eat. You had to drink. This was a key part of making a covenant, and it’s one the early Jews understood.

Do we? Do we really understand how important this is? John wanted to make sure we did, which is why his Gospel spends so much time focusing on the bread, the manna, and Jesus’s insistence that we know what we’re doing when we partake. Christ makes it clear in John 6 that the only way to share eternity with Him is to eat His flesh and drink His blood—which are food and drink indeed.

He didn’t just change His mind and give them bread and wine instead because it was easy, and a good reminder. He changed the bread and wine into the heavenly manna that we need. The manna many Jews believed was stored from eternity in heaven and poured out for the Israelites in the wilderness—the manna that is now offered daily to us as believers, Jesus Himself, poured out for us. He transforms those common elements into divine elements. Every time. Every day.

That’s the miracle of it. The daily miracle.

(I’d intended this series to go longer, but given my recent cancer diagnosis, I’m going to mostly leave it at this for now. But I do highly recommend you get the book referenced in the start, and I also highly recommend The Fourth Cup by Scott Hahn* for an incredibly detailed look at that portion of things!)

* Please note that this is an affiliate link. See disclaimer in the footer.

Word of the Week – Fathom

Word of the Week – Fathom

If you’re anything like me, you’re aware that fathom is a unit of measurement (though fuzzy on the details of what it equals, perhaps) but use it most often as a synonym for “understand” or “comprehend.” Ever wonder how these meanings are related? Because they totally are.

Fathom comes all the way from Old English as both a noun and a verb, both coming from the same meaning. The verb was “to embrace or surround” and the noun was “the length of outstretched arms,” so about 5-6 feet on average.

By about 1600 it was used as a verb in the sense of “to take soundings,” which is to figure out the depth of water. That, in turn, led to “get to the bottom of something” in a metaphorical sense by about 1600. Which led directly to today’s current meaning. Because once you’ve gotten to the bottom of something, you understand it and comprehend it.

Word Nerds Unite!

Read More Word of the Week Posts

Jesus and Traditions

Jesus and Traditions

We’ve been talking about the really cool lessons I’ve learned through the reading of a book called Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre.* First I talked about the Daily Bread, and then last week about why the Passover was the perfect backdrop for Jesus’s New Covenant…which is to say, we looked at that original covenant.

Now I want to pause and address the idea of traditions. The ones instituted by God, yes, and also the ones that men “added to” Scripture.

As Christians today, we’re quite familiar with the ones Jesus called out, right? For instance, the practice of corban—when you would dedicate your wealth to God and therefore have an excuse not to use it to care for those to whom you were obligated, like your parents. Or when the Pharisees chide the disciples for plucking grains of wheat as they walked through a field and eating them on the Sabbath (not outlawed by the Law, but by added traditions) and Jesus argues with them.

But did you know that there are many manmade, added-on traditions that Jesus not only didn’t argue with, but which He kept, respected, and even fulfilled?

I think one of the first ones of these I learned about was one that surrounded His birth. There were very strict regulations—manmade ones, mind you—about where flocks could be kept in relation to cities and towns. The sheep and their waste had to be well outside the cities. Like, miles.

Bethlehem, however, was only five miles from Jerusalem. That put it well within range of “no livestock allowed.” Yet there were flocks with shepherds to whom the angels appeared. Who? How?

They were the temple flocks—because that was the one exception to the rule. Temple flocks were kept in the pastures between Jerusalem and Bethlehem at the time of Christ, and they were not tended by just any shepherds. They were tended by Levites—because none but priestly hands were ever to touch the lambs that would be offered for Passover (another manmade, added tradition, recorded in ancient Levitical texts in the years between the testaments).

These Levitical shepherds took their job very seriously. So seriously that they not only had sheepfolds, they built watch towers so that they could see the entire pastureland. These towers, as it happens, also then gave them the best view of the road leading to Jerusalem. Because of this, in those texts written by the priests, we see that they’d written poems and songs with their own prophecies, one of which was that they, from their watchtower, would be the first to see the Messiah when he came.

They were probably thinking he’d come by that road. A king.

I find it really, really cool to realize that they were the first to hear the good news of Christ’s birth—while they were watching their flocks by night.

God honored that extra, manmade, added-on tradition, held in the hearts of His priests. Those shepherds—the ones who tended the Passover lambs—were the first to hear that THE Lamb of God had been born.

Ever wonder how we know what songs the angels sang to them in the field that night? Because some of those priests, those shepherds, those Levites were among the first followers of Christ. They were part of the earliest Church. They preserved and shared that song of praise, and it has been sung in Christian liturgy ever since. I get to sing it every week—it’s called “The Gloria.” (Does that give you shivers?? That totally gives me shivers!!)

Another “extra” tradition is what we know today as Hanukkah. This festival commemorates the miraculous preservation of oil in the Temple during the days of the Maccabees, which kept a lamp—the sacred lamp kept in the Holy of Holies—burning during some of the darkest days of Israel. You won’t find this story in what we call Scripture. But it is Jewish history preserved in many other places and still celebrated today.

Jesus kept that festival—you’ll find that recorded in the Gospels using one of its other names, either the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication (depending on your translation). He celebrated it. He didn’t call it out. Yet many Christians today feel they have “permission,” so to speak, to doubt that this miracle ever happened, because it’s not in “scripture.”

I say if it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me. 😉

And there are so, so many traditions that sprang up surrounding the Passover, which Jesus not only didn’t correct, but which He fulfilled. That’s why I want to talk about it in this context, as part of my series.

First, let’s look at some beautiful and gob-smacking traditions surrounding the manna.

In the years between the original Exodus and the time of Christ, the Jews had mused a lot about this miraculous bread and what it really was. We have their thoughts preserved for us in writings like the Talmud and the Targum, as well as in Exodus, Joshua, the Psalms, and the Catholic Wisdom of Solomon (not part of the Protestant Bible).

In the Psalms, the manna was referred to as “the bread of the angels,” which led the Jews to believe that this bread existed in Heaven, and some mused that if was truly the supernatural bread that fed the angels, then it must have pre-dated the Fall.

Consider the implications of that for a moment. If you believe that theory, then it means that the strange bread that fell like dew was stored up in heaven, where it had been created in the first days of the universe, before Man had damaged the world with sin. It was food not affected by the fall—which couldn’t be said of anything we grow on earth, that we have to toil for, that is subject to blight and disease. Yes, the manna would rot after 24 hours…but only by the word of God, evidenced by the fact that it didn’t one day of week, when it would remain fresh for the Sabbath.

So if manna pre-existed the fall and (obviously) the Exodus, that meant that it was stored in heaven. And if the angels ate it then, they were still eating it now, which meant it still exists in heaven. By that theory, it is something kept in a heavenly storehouse—in a heavenly Tabernacle that our earthly ones were meant to imitate—which the angels ground like wheat, and which God literally poured out for His people during the forty years of the Exodus “like rain,” but which has not “run out.” It stopped because they didn’t need it anymore, not because God didn’t have enough to keep giving it.

Which led to another of these traditions, these expectations. Those looking for the new Moses, the new Messiah, who would lead them to a permanent Promised Land (heaven), expected that this new Moses would behave in some key ways like the original Moses. First and foremost: he would reintroduce manna.

Jesus was well acquainted with these expectations—all first century Jews knew of it, though whether they believed it or not was a big part of what determined which sect they belonged to. The Sadducees, who did not believe in a bodily resurrection or a physical heaven, had no reason to believe in an angelic bread on which those bodies could feast, nor to expect it to make a reappearance, because they didn’t expect any other messiah to ever come. The Pharisees, on the other hand, did.

And again, Jesus did not correct this expectation, this tradition—He fulfilled it. He in fact instructed His followers to pray for that “daily bread,” that miraculous manna, to be given to them every day. And then He instituted a tradition of His own that gave us what? Bread. Which is offered every day.

Jesus, my friends, gave us a new manna…just like these extra, man made, added-on traditions had said the Messiah would do.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that the Bread of Life sermon in John 6 is bookended with references to the manna (if you haven’t read that recently, take some time to do so!). Have you ever wondered why? This is why. Because these people to whom he was speaking in the synagogue at Capernaum, were looking for a new manna. And He was basically saying, “You want new manna? Well, I am that new manna. I am the bread of life. To partake of that heavenly life, you have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Their response? They left him. It was too hard. It was taboo. It was gross. And Jesus didn’t pull back. He pushed harder. He told them it was the only way to partake of eternal life. He mentioned that He—in the flesh, in the very flesh He would offer to them, in the very flesh that would become that new manna, that bread, that Passover lamb—would ascend back to heaven, where that manna was stored.

It’s a hard teaching. It was hard for the first-century Jews, and it’s proven a stumbling block for plenty of Christians throughout the ages too, who’d rather soften it, pull back, and call it nothing but a symbol.

But the manna wasn’t a symbol. That first manna, it didn’t represent bread. It was bread. It had nutritional value. It kept them alive for forty years. And when God said “put some in the Ark, in the Tabernacle, to be preserved forever as a testament,” it didn’t rot. It stayed fresh and able to be viewed for thousands of years.

We can’t mean to say that Jesus’s offering, His manna, was less than that, can we? That it is less of a miracle? Less “real”?

Jesus knew the expectations of the people around Him. He knew the traditions. Yes, He challenged some of them. He fulfilled others. Some He observed quietly, without any commentary that we still have. Others He called out. Many He clearly approved of, because He made a point of incorporating them into His great sacrifice. (Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that He inspired that unfolding understanding through the years because He already knew what He would do.)

I understand the pitfalls of traditions—that sometimes we can make the wrong ones. Sometimes they let us fall into a routine that doesn’t mean anything to us anymore. Sometimes we can use them as a crutch. But there’s a very real reason that God created traditions. And it’s also just part of humanity to build on the work of those who came before us, so that we reach a deeper understanding of things over time.

It’s true in science. It’s true in medicine. It’s true in literature. And it’s true in faith. We are standing on the shoulders of the theologians and believers and saints who have come before us, and that is a beautiful thing.

But if we dismiss everything “added,” we honestly don’t understand how we ended up where we are. A prime example of that is the Last Supper. Jesus was following during that meal, not just the tradition that God handed out word-for-word to Moses, but the tradition that had developed over the intervening centuries: the Passover Seder.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about next time.

* Please note that this is an affiliate link. See disclaimer in the footer.