Jesus' Mercy Changes Me, We and the World

Somatophobia

“’Cause love’s such an old fashioned word/And love dares you to care for/The people on the edge of the night/And love dares you to change our way of/Caring about ourselves/This is our last dance” ~Queen & David Bowie, Under Pressure

“Only a handful of the books in the bible were written to individuals.” ~Soong-Chan Rah, Individualism

“As Christ’s body, we embrace with love and hope those who, in their bodies are despised and marginalized.” ~M. Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom

Somatophobia is the fear of flesh. It is used by theologians to describe the ways that Christians talk about Humans as if we don’t have bodies. While the soul is a key component to Christianity, so is the body. Human bodies were created by God. Jesus had a body. The sacrament of the Eucharist consecrates the body of Jesus. Jesus sacrificed his body. Jesus calls us to be the Body of Christ in the world.

The ritual of the Eucharist centers on Jesus’ body and blood. While there are lots of traditions around the Eucharist, across Christian beliefs, the Eucharist is our reminder that Christ enters into us to restore us and unite us as one body to do his work in the world.

Yet when it comes to conversations about bodies, the church’s response tends to range from mute (at best) to problematic (at worst.) Conversations about bodies—women’s bodies, men’s bodies, white bodies, black bodies, queer bodies, straight bodies—always get political.

But being a Christian has always been political. The two cannot be separated. We believe that God cares about the environment (see the Garden of Eden). We believe God makes contracts with people (see Abraham). We believe God breaks down political systems (see Egypt) that enslave other human bodies. We believe God is against the abuse of Women’s bodies (see King David). We believe in praying for a new Kingdom of order to come (see The Lord’s Prayer). We believe that God spoke out against systems of status quo based on oppression (see Jesus). We believe that systems of oppression only change through making sacrifices (see Crucifixion).

I am a Christian because I believe in Jesus’ message of freedom for all people. And that is political.

As Jesus’ body in the world, our call is to take care of the marginalized (or, as Jesus put it, take care of “the least of these” Matthew 25:40). It seems like we have failed and continue to fail to do so. The marginalization and murder of black men in this country breaks my heart. Black bodies are being broken and their innocent blood is being shed. Realizing how institutionalized racism is in our culture and our country makes it feel impossible to make a change. The actions of our country and our government seem to mirror those of the Romans who crucified Christ more than the disciples.

If we truly believe we are the body of Christ, then the mystery of the Eucharist reminds us that we too must break ourselves open and pour out our blood to ensure salvation and freedom for each other. That’s what Jesus’ love does.

As I contemplate my role in systematic of oppression and what I can do to fight for freedom, I listen to “Ella’s Song.” Ella Baker was a Civil Rights leader the same time as Martin Luther King Jr. Her message was that the fight for freedom requires community. “Ella’s Song” is a meditation that she wrote and shared with the groups that she led. Here is a link to the song.

May we remember, as Jesus followers, that we have been charged with “taking care of the least of these;” may we own our call to fight for liberation for all of God’s children; may our bodies be broken and our blood be shed for freedom; and may we who believe in freedom never rest until it comes.

Zach Herzog

Several ideas for this devotion were borrowed from theologian M. Shawn Copeland, whose book Enfleshing Freedom: body, race, and being is challenging and timely for our world today.