Sermon audio here.
When people think of spirituality they tend to think of something otherworldly. Even when Christians think of heaven, what often comes to mind isn’t very tangible or physical. When somebody dies we usually talk about how they have “gone to heaven.” And while there is definitely a sense in which this is true, usually people think the goal is to leave the physical world behind and go to some spiritual realm.
To be human is to be both body and soul. Death is the unnatural separation of soul and body. Certainly we can say with St. Paul that death is gain, but the interim state—the time after death, but before the resurrection of the body on the Last Day—isn’t the final goal of the Christian faith.
When Christians die the soul goes to be with Christ while the body rests in peaceful sleep until Christ’s reappearing. At His reappearing, Christ has promised to awaken those who sleep so that we will be fully human—both body and soul—and with God in the New Creation. We believe in the resurrection of the Body.
Scripture doesn’t teach an escape from the physical creation. Rather, Christ descends from heaven to join us here in our physical life on earth. Christ has come to set things right again—as it was in the beginning—not to take us away from His creation. Heaven—or better yet, the New Creation—is a very physical place. Our natural habitat is a Garden. It’s no more natural for people to live in a disembodied, spiritual existence than it is for a fish to be out of water.
It was always God’s intent to dwell with man on earth like He did in Eden. He didn’t give up on that plan just because we rejected it. Christ’s goal has always been to set things right. Death was not part of the original plan, and since Easter Sunday, death is no longer batting 1000.
In Christ, we look for the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. We don’t long for an escape from the body into some otherworldly, disembodied existence.
But even if we get the resurrection of the body and the biblical teaching of the New Creation right, we make a serious mistake if we think the Christian faith is only concerned with the future. Scripture warns us against being so future-oriented that we forget about the present, and in the process fail to reach the promised rest—rest which Scripture describes in a very physical manner, comparing it to the Promised Land from the Old Testament.
For God, spirituality is a very tangible, physical thing. Our natural tendency is to make a sharp distinction between the sacred and the secular. Something is only considered “Christian” or “spiritual” if it involves the church in some way. The only way to bring Christ to the world, it’s sometimes thought, is to do something overtly religious.
The problem with this is it limits God’s work to the Church. It ends up calling profane what God has declared holy. As Christians, you bear Christ in your body daily and all of your work becomes sacred service in God’s eyes. You are mask of God. God provides for the needs of His creation through our service to one another. Whether you know it or not, God works through you to provide for your family, your church, and your community. Everything you do is religious service—or it’s supposed to be, at least.
In Luther’s day, it was common for churches to hold what were called “Corpus Christi” festivals. “Corpus Christi” is a Latin phrase which means “the Body of Christ.” These festivals involved taking consecrated communion bread—the true body of Christ—and then putting it in this beautiful golden vessel called a monstrance, and then they would parade it around the city. It’s sort of like a processional cross, but instead of a crucifix, they have communion bread on top.
Now that might not sound like such a bad thing to do, but the problem with it is we end up using the Sacrament in an unbiblical manner. Jesus said, “Take, eat,” not, “take and parade the Sacrament around the city.”
This is a backward approach to holiness. Christ nurtures you with His Word and Sacrament in order to make you holy. The world isn’t supposed to find Christ in Corups Christi parades, but in your conduct. Through your reception of the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament, you become Christophers, or Christ-bearers. Jesus shares His holiness with you in preaching and the Sacrament that you might bring that same holiness into the world through a life of humble service.
In this way, everything you do becomes holy and sacred. As one who bears Christ, the way you see and treat others is different. The most mundane tasks become holy opportunities to serve your neighbor.
But this holiness is never something you possess. It’s like the light of the sun. The sun shines on you anew each day in order to bring light into a dark world. Your holiness in Christ is the same way; it’s never a possession, but something you receive anew each day through prayer, meditation on Christ’s Word, and especially through preaching and the Sacrament.
This holiness is hidden, but just like our daily struggle against Satan, the fact that you can’t see it makes it no less real. When Christ appears, you will finally see, for the first time, the way God already sees you now: pure and holy. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but when Christ returns you will see yourself in the radiance and glory with which Christ has already clothed you in Holy Baptism. Until then we walk by faith and not by sight—together with Christ—until the Day when He returns to make all things new. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
Based on chapter 5, “Hidden Holiness” in Grace upon Grace by John Kleinig
Wednesday of Judica, 2016: Embodied Holiness
Around the Word Bible Studies