Sunday, March 21, 2010

5 Lent

March 21, 2010

John 12.1-8

As someone who deals regularly with funerals, I have a fairly moderate view of funerals. Years ago, it seemed the majority of people were simply embalmed and buried. At the time, I had a great dislike of such displays. Embalming seemed to be a bit over-the-top and expensive vaults and caskets seemed overly extravagant.

I personally have always been a major proponent of cremation. However, it seems in recent years that, as cremation has became more popular, we find all kinds of creative uses for the ashes. Scattering, having ashes made into jewelry, having ashes divided among several family members, having ashes mixed with paint and made into a portrait. You name it, someone somewhere has probably thought of some creative use for ashes.

I personally prefer cremation with interment or burial. I am of the frame of mind that believes that the body, whether just buried or cremated, should be treated with a certain level of respect and care and should be properly buried or interred in some way.

In today’s Gospel, we find Mary coming before Jesus and doing a very unusual thing: she anoints his feet. And Jesus, even more strangely, reprimands Judas by saying that Mary is doing nothing more than anointing his body for burial.

As we near Holy Week—that final week of Jesus’ life before the cross—our thoughts are now turning more and more to these “last things.” Jesus is reminding us, yet again, that even the simplest acts of devotion have deeper meaning and are meant to put us in mind of what is about to ultimately happen.

Mary sees in Jesus something even his disciples don’t. She sees—and maybe doesn’t fully comprehend, though she certainly intuitively guesses—that Jesus, in his flesh and blood, is different. There is something holy and complete about him. She might not go so far as to say that he is God in the flesh, but certainly she is leaning in that direction.

For us, as Christians who do believe that Jesus in God in the flesh, we know that issues of the flesh are important. Because of the incarnation, because, in Jesus’ flesh and blood, we have come to know God, we know that our flesh is also special. If God would deign to come among us and take on flesh like our flesh, then our flesh must not be such an inherently horrible thing.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from one of the early Church Father, John of Damascus. John wrote a truly remarkable thing while defending the veneration of icons—or holy images of Jesus and the saints. John wrote:

“I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works for my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God."

Why so many Christians view the flesh as such a horrible things baffles me. And we have all known Christians who do think that flesh is a horrible, sinful thing—who think all we should do is concentrate only and the spiritual. For those of us in the know—even for those of who have suffered from physical illness and suffering—we know that the flesh and the spirit truly are connected. We cannot separate the two while we are still alive and walking on the earth.

Still, I do always love the quote from one of my personal heroes, the Jesuit priest and paleontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, from his incredible book The Phenomenon of Man:

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

I think we could just as easily say that we are spiritual beings having a material experience. I, of course, don’t see that as a downplaying our flesh. Rather, I see it as truly the spirit making the material holy.

Our flesh is sacred because Jesus makes it sacred. And if we have trouble remembering that our flesh is sacred, that God in Jesus cares about us not just spiritually but physically, we have no further place to look that what we do here at this altar, in the Eucharist. Here, we find Jesus, in the same flesh and blood that Mary herself anoints in today’s Gospel reading. Here,. he comes among us and feeds our flesh, as well as our spirits. And, we can even go so far as to say that by feeding out flesh, we becomes one with us physically as well as spiritually.

And this is part of the reason why I think that even following our death we should honor what remains of this flesh because it is sacred. We shouldn’t just toss it away or frivolously dole it out or in any other way disrespect it. We should be respectful to our ashes and those of our loved ones, for truly God has worked through the flesh of all the people we have known in our lives and, by doing so , has made them each uniquely holy and special.

Next week, on Palm Sunday, we will begin our liturgy with joy and end it on a solemn note as we head in Holy Week. As we journey through these last days of Lent, let us do so pondering how God has worked through our flesh and the flesh of our loved ones. Let us rejoice in our flesh and be grateful for all the joys we have received through it. And let this joy be the anointment for our flesh that it deserves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

IT IS A VERY NICE SUGGESTION, THANK YOU LOTS! ........................................