by Luke M. Allgeyer on his last Sunday at St. Luke’s in August 2018.
as a hospital chaplain
i spend a lot of time around bodies:
i see bodies that are sick—
they lie in their beds.
maybe their breathing is pained and labored,
hungry for the dry and sterile air
that swirls around the room.
maybe their breathing is light and easy,
almost as if it isn’t there at all,
like the breaths you are taking now,
ones that you don’t need to think about,
ones that you barely even notice.
maybe their breathing is controlled by a machine,
clicking and beeping,
as it fills their lungs with precious air,
through a tube that connects them to a ventilator,
which has become an extension of their own body.
i see bodies that are well—
they are the patients who have changed out of their gowns,
who are wearing their street clothes,
who are wearing smiles on their faces after successful treatments,
who are wearing the glow of hope in a brighter future
as they prepare to go home.
they are the families of patients,
who have sat vigil for days, weeks, months,
who have prayed without ceasing for god to provide life and health,
who have suffered alongside the ones that they love.
they are the doctors, nurses, social workers, janitors, food service workers, security
guards, unit clerks,
they are my fellow chaplains,
they are those who support ailing bodies with their own,
who lift, hoist, poke, cut, stitch, bandage, hold, rub, wipe, wash, and dry
in today’s gospel,
we, for the last time this summer,
bear witness to jesus just ranting and raving
about his body.
this text from john
also marks the end of our series on the topic of holy scandal.
and today’s readings
might be the most scandalous of all
precisely because of their relationship to bodies.
as we are all well aware of in this cultural moment
bodies are scandalous.
bodies are the sites of our needs and desires.
bodies that depend on their service.
bodies that are living…
and bodies whose lives have come to an end.
because i also see bodies that are dead—
they are old,
having welcomed death like a friend.
they are not so old,
greeting death well before they should.
every body that i meet
no matter its status
sick, well, lifeless
reminds me that i, too, am a body,
that we all share the experience of being bodies.
and this experience is what connects us,
what allows us to understand one another.
bodies like ours
are delicate things.
things in need of protection,
in need of sustenance,
in need of warmth, moisture, intimacy,
vitamins, minerals, fiber, light, rest—
we are bodies that crave.
we are bodies that hunger.
we are bodies that feel the pangs of need
and here (head)
and here (heart).
we feel it
bodies are the locations where we play out our greatest joys
and our deepest sins.
bodies are our windows into the world,
into our relationships with other people.
bodies are precious.
and because of this,
because bodies are, really, all we have,
bodies are so, so scandalous.
and jesus KNOWS IT.
jesus himself was the one who called out the scandal for us.
jesus is up there talking about eating flesh and drinking blood
and manna from heaven
and just going on about it
and eventually someone just raises her hand and is like,
“lord, what on earth are you even talking about?
you are bread?” she asks.
“if we eat your flesh and drink your blood
we live forever?”
i imagine them just kind of looking around at each other.
shrugging their shoulders.
maybe whispering behind their hands, like
“no, simon, it was YOUR idea to listen to this guy,
now look what we have to deal with.”
and so they say to him,
exasperated I’m sure,
“but lord, this teaching is DIFFICULT.”
and so jesus turns to them and says
“what, does it offend you?
if so, you are NOT PREPARED for what’s coming.”
and so some of them are like,
“oh, yeah, you might be right,” and they leave,
but the twelve remain.
jesus asks them “what, was that still not scandalous enough for y’all?”
and peter says,
“you just told us that you have the words of eternal life.
why would we want to follow anyone else?”
the words of eternal life.
those who eat my flesh
and drink my blood
abide in me
and i in them.
it’s bizarre, and it is difficult, and it is a little offensive, and it is a scandal.
but this scandal
is nothing new.
here’s another one from today:
all the elders of israel
these old guys with beards
men who have been worshipping and sacrificing to their god
are called together by their king, solomon.
the temple that solomon had built is now complete
and he wants everyone who’s anyone in jerusalem
to watch the procession of the ark of the covenant
into its rightful place
in the holy of holies,
the center of the temple,
the seat of the lord.
so solomon is going on about the covenant that god made with israel,
a covenant of prosperity,
a covenant of life,
a covenant of steadfast love.
and the elders, they’re looking at him,
nodding their heads
probably patting each other on the back,
like, “yeah, we did this, look at this huge temple,
this beautiful dwelling place of god,
this new home for the one who promised to sustain us.”
but then in the middle of his speech,
solomon kind of goes of the rails.
after building this huge structure,
he wonders aloud:
“will god indeed dwell on the earth?
even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you,
much less this house that i have built!”
i imagine the elders of israel
at this point
might have looked at one another
and began whispering behind their hands.
“if god can’t be contained
then why on earth did we build this thing?”
scandalous. the house of the lord cannot fit the glory of the lord.
and this scandal, too, is one of bodies.
because, as solomon might have us believe
the body of god is is greater than can be contained
even by god’s own creation, the work of god’s hands.
the body of god is always something more.
so then, what is the body of god?
where can the body of god be found?
if the body of god cannot dwell even in the house of god,
how can we,
creatures with bodies
that live and feel and ache and die,
who depend on our bodies to understand the world around us,
how can we possibly understand or relate to or praise a god
that cannot be contained?
the answer is the core
of this scandal
that we call our faith.
because there was a time
alongside all god’s creatures
also lived and felt and ached and died.
there was a time when god was contained
within a body of flesh and blood.
and it is through that flesh and blood,
the kinship with all god’s creation,
that god makes it possible for us to understand,
to relate to,
indeed even to become part of the everlasting life that god represents.
because it is through the flesh and blood
that god understands god’s own creation,
that god relates to the work of god’s hands.
and when we eat of this flesh and drink of this blood
we make our bodies one with the body of christ,
which is the body of god,
and we allow god’s hands—
the hands that fulfilled the covenant of solomon’s temple,
the hands that fed the five thousand with a few loaves and fish,
the hands that eternally sustain the life of the created world—
we allow god’s hands to work through us.
we are the body of god.
we are the container
out of which god overflows.
this is my last sunday worshipping with you all,
and for the last two and a half years
i have truly felt like i was a part of the body of god.
as this congregation set about doing god’s work:
settling into a newly consecrated temple,
welcoming foreigners who heard the the name of god,
using our hands—god’s hands—to do this work.
by becoming the body of christ
and donning the armor god—
armor not of war,
but of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, spirit—
by speaking god’s word
against the cosmic powers of darkness
we have used the body of god
present in our own bodies
to sustain and create life
not only within this congregation
but also in this neighborhood, in this city.
we have supported each other in times of death and loss,
and we said goodbye to family, friends, and even pastors
that are no longer a part of our bodily presence.
we have strengthened each other through challenges and joys,
creating new opportunities for a growing assembly,
making sure that everyone,
from the youngest and newest members of our congregation,
to those that have been worshipping here for decades,
everyone gets the opportunity
to embody god.
we used our hands and feet and mouths
to proclaim the good news
of the work god performs through us,
marching for affordable housing,
for the dignity of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender siblings,
for access to mental health services,
for access to life—
not only for those gathered in this temple,
but also for those whom god sustains beyond its walls.
it has been an unexpected privilege to consider myself
part of the body of this congregation.
because this congregation is hungry
in the best of ways.
it is hungry for the bread of righteousness.
and thirsty for the wine of justice.
and this hunger, this thirst, are good things.
they keep us returning to god’s table
so that we can once more take god into ourselves,
inviting the holy spirit to abide in us
and protect us with the armor of god
so that we will continue to be sustained
as we do god’s work.
as we continue to be a powerful church
that transforms lives
and changes the world
because god is in us.
all of you, for me,
will be a phantom limb.
a piece of my body that is no longer there,
and yet the ache of longing still throbs.
at the end of the service,
as at the end of all services,
the dismissal will be called out:
go in peace, christ is with you.
today, i think, calls for the scandal of all scandals
to be affirmed as well.
as we eat this bread
and drink this cup
together at the table,
as one body,
my hope for this congregation
as i say goodbye
is that christ will not only manifest himself alongside you,
but that christ will continue revealing the scandal of god’s grace
inside you, inside your bodies,
and through the work of your hands.
thanks be to god.