An Embodied Lent


We have them. We inhabit them. But often we do not know what to do with them.

We desperately want to change them, improve them, shrink them, hide them. We want to tighten them, shape them, mold them. We compare ours to others. We describe them with odd categories, like fruit. We analyze them, take them apart, and we like some parts more than others.

We take them for granted. We look at them in the mirror with disgust or with modest admiration. We keep the lights off so that they cannot be seen. We expose them in ways that leave little to the imagination.

I doubt I am saying anything that you have not felt about your body at some point in your life.

Last weekend, I attended the visitation and funeral of one of my husband’s best friends from college. They were roommates in college. They went on fishing and hiking trips together with the other “roomies” every summer. They had known each other for 38 years. They shared the same name. He was six days older than my husband. I hadn’t seen him for months and there was very little left of his body. Pancreatic cancer had left an already slender and fit man with only bones and skin. I fear that perhaps we do not realize the beauty of our bodies until our bodies are no longer.

“But he was speaking of the temple of his body.” We know that the circumstances of the temple incident in John are different from the other Gospels. We know the theological claim that Jesus is making in this very different temple skirmish story. And certainly, reflection on or a sermon about any of these points of specificity in John’s version would be worthwhile.

But what I was drawn to in thinking about this column is bodies — the temple of his body. That God chose to localize love in a human body. That God decided becoming human was a good idea.

You see, since God made the decision to be incarnated, it seems to me that God was probably not choosy about bodies. Sure, God became a man. But if we take the incarnation seriously, and that God loves the world, the full expression of human bodies is at stake. Otherwise, incarnation is partial and penultimate. You can’t be partly human, selectively human. If you are human, well then, it means the whole thing.

Why does this matter for you as a preacher? Because when was the last time you thought about how your body expresses the Gospel? How your body communicates the message of your sermon as much as your words? How your body reveals the truth about the truth you preach?

We tend to be so caught up in words. We avoid our bodies with albs. We hide behind pulpits and lecterns, relieved that we only have to figure out what to do with our bodies from the waist up. If you are a female preacher, you’ve decided not to wear a cincture, lest someone notice that you have a waist and breasts.

Or, if you are not behind a pulpit, when was the last time you thought about what to do with your body? Do you pace? Flail around with your arms? Your body is who you are. Your body communicates your sermon as much as the words you so carefully craft.

What does this all mean? Maybe it has nothing to do with your sermon this week. Or, maybe it has everything to do with your preaching. That you call attention to the fact that bodies matter, in all shapes and sizes. That who your people are as witnesses to God’s love in the world is not just about the words they say. That actually, their calling is not just telling people about Jesus but embodying Jesus for others; how not just your words and actions but your actual body communicates the love of God, the presence of God.

Bodies matter. Your body matters. Incarnational preaching is not just talk or voice or speech. It is how your body embodies the truth of the Gospel; how your body has felt what it feels like to experience grace upon grace.

Lent will be a body anointed, a body beaten, a body on the cross, a body laid in a tomb. What does that feel like? The only way we can get at that is to embrace our own bodies. Lent, Easter, even theology, cannot be fully captured or experienced in our heady confessions, our lofty logic, or our need for knowledge. Lent invites a deep reflection on the role of bodies in faith, in theology, in life.

In the end, Jesus is saying that his body is the location of God. Yours is, too. It has to be. God is counting on it because God loves the world. Jesus is counting on it because his incarnation came to an end on that cross. This week, embody your body. Explore how your body ministers as much as your sermon manuscript. Imagine how your body preaches as much as your words. Because then the Word becomes flesh — again and again.