The Story Isn’t Over—The Body Lives
Sermon for Crpus Christi, 2007
The Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene, Rochester, New York
Today we celebrate the gift of the Body of Christ—Corpus Christi. We celebrate both things we understand to be Christ’s Body. The Body we are given around the Altar, and the Body we are given to be in the world.
These two things go together for us; they can never be separated: the Body we are given and the Body we are given to be. Either one without the other is just a religion, prone to all those mistakes that religions always make—the mistakes of exclusivity that always end up undermining they very thing they purport to uphold. Together they are the very ongoing life of God among us.
The Body we are given can easily turn into an idol without a clear sense of the transformation of our lives this Body is meant to feed in us. Jesus did not give us his Body in the Sacrament as just another religious exercise.
Bishop Frank Weston said it once, clearly and prophetically. Weston was an Anglo-catholic leader in the early 20th century who became the Bishop of Zanzibar. He was a bit of a grouch in his day; he protested the church’s “modernizing” in words that sound somewhat familiar in our own day of struggles in the Church. But he got what it meant to be the Body of Christ. He proclaimed to the Anglo-catholic Congress of 1923 (excusing the language of the day),
. . . I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you, through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum. . . . It is folly, it is madness, to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacrament and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating Him in the bodies and souls of His children. . . . You have your Mass, you have your altars, you have begun to get your tabernacles. Now go out into the highways and hedges, and look for Jesus in the ragged and the naked, in the oppressed and the sweated, in those who have lost hope, and in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus in them, and, when you have found Him, gird yourself with His towel of fellowship and wash His feet in the person of his brethren.[i]
That is really what the question is about that the children’s version of the Revelation story asked us a few moments ago. Is that the end of the story?
The answer is always and emphatically, “No!” God’s story is never over. It lives on in us as we continue to be the People of God, the Body of Christ, given for the world.
And now we have put together what I think may be the two most important words in the Christian vocabulary: story and body. Not what you might think? But Christianity would be utterly nothing without them.
Christianity is meaningless without the Body of Christ, as it was in history, as it is given to us now at the Altar, and as we become it over time in the world. And Christianity is likewise meaningless if we do not understand that the story of our lives, and the lives of those around us, are part of the ongoing story of God.
We act this out every Sunday—in this sense our worship makes perfect sense for this understanding of Christianity. We tell the story and speak and pray our part in it, and we celebrate the presence of the Body and are sent into the world fed by it to be it. Having done this for the cycle of a week, we come back to the story, primarily because in this world it is so easy to forget the story, and when we forget the story, we lose our capacity either to receive or to be the Body.
This relates in several ways to several things we are doing today:
We celebrate another year of Sunday School, which has, at least in its children’s component become very simply about storytelling in the method you have just experienced. Stories are powerful things, maybe the most powerful things that have the capacity to form us. I think it is true what the popular writer Anne Lamott says, that stories are what can save us.[ii]
We celebrate a turning point in some of our young people’s lives, and, I hope, one of the things we are saying to them is, we need you as part of the Body to help us continue the story and you need the story and the Body to continue to nourish you through life.
We say good bye to Bryan Bedell (our Seminarian) who has been part of our story and been formed into and helped to form this Body, and in the mystery of our coming together and going apart we also welcome Malcolm Merriweather (our new Director of Music) into that same mystery that we live.
And we begin a new time of storytelling among us—about how race and racism has affected our identities—our stories and our bodies.
I want to say a bit more about this last one because it is so important to our life together—for this ongoing process of storytelling and body building that makes us who we are continually transformed by God.
I am personally convinced that storytelling is one of the holiest things we can do with one another, which means it can be one of the most transformative things we can do with one another. Knowing one another’s stories more deeply can only strengthen this Body—and I think this is more true when those stories are across the differences of experience that cause us to stretch and grow—sometimes joyfully, sometimes painfully. We become more the Body of Christ that we are called to be as we tell one another our stories, finding together the moments of grace in them—the signs of God’s presence that we can rarely see all by ourselves.
Our anti-racism dialogue over the next few months is an extraordinary opportunity for Body building in which I hope many of us will participate. We will only be as strong as a community of faith as we know one another’s story and support one another on the journey to being the Body of Christ in and for the world.
So how do we answer the question from the children’s story this morning? Is this the end of the story?
No, the story isn’t over, the Body lives. Let it be here with us, and on the streets.
[i] From the closing of Weston’s speech concluding the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923. The speech in its entirety is available at http://anglicanhistory.org/weston/weston2.html.
[ii] Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (Penguin Books, 2007), pp. 150-151.