At my last birthday, my dad asked me how it felt to be 38 (you know, a very “dad” question to ask) and I told him not much different. My brain feels just as young as it ever did, but I told him I have started to notice that my body doesn’t seem to bounce back like it used to. And my dad, who has just a few decades on me, said it’s the exact same for him. According to his brain, he’s just as young and spry as any 22 year old. But his body disagrees pretty strongly! And I think about that every time I remember this line from Jesus, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak!” And ain’t that the truth. Our bodies are our weakness. But the easy trap to fall into is to think that that means it’s a bad thing.
I think there’s a pretty strong temptation sometimes to want to “spiritualize” faith. To see faith as just a “head” thing and not a “body” thing. Because our bodies are weak! They fail us all the time! They hurt. They get sick. They aren’t as fast or as strong or as flexible as we want them to be. Or think they should be! And one day, our bodies will even kill us.
And it’s such a strong temptation to want to get rid of the thing that holds you back. To get rid of our weakness. To see it as a burden rather than a gift. But the way of Jesus compels us to look at life a little differently. The way of Jesus, if we’ve got the gumption to follow, flips everything upside down and inside out.
It’s been said that one of the most important works of Jesus was to destroy the Empire. Not, the Roman empire, but all the Empires of the world that rally around the strongest in the middle. All the Empires that all too easily sacrifice the weakest and those on the margins to support that strong middle. And Jesus, rather than going to the middle, went to the margins. He became the weakest and most despised and drew us all to him right there. Not in the middle, but at the margins. Not in strength, but in weakness.
The work of God is revealed most fully not when Jesus is curing and feeding and teaching, but when Jesus is dying. And I know that’s all very theological and heady (see how easy it is to slip into “spiritualized” faith?), but the truth of it comes alive in very real ways right before us.
I think, by now, we are all well aware of the difference between being together in person versus gathering over the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful for what technology allows us to do! But there is no substitute for gathering together in person. Being together in the body matters. You can just feel it.
The flesh may be weak, but it’s our bodies that allow us to connect with others. Our bodies are the ones that see and smell and hear and taste and touch. And it’s because our bodies are weak that we learn the grace and strength of needing one another.
Have you every noticed how hard it is to get to know someone who can never admit they are wrong? Who will never ask for help or say they don’t know? When all we show people is our strength, we shut ourselves off from real connection. The kinds of connection that make life better. That make life beautiful.
Weakness may be hard. And we may not like it. But that doesn’t make it bad. Because our bodies matter. They are more than just the thing that carries our brain around. They impact and affect every waking moment of our lives. And in this last earthly night of Jesus’ life, the gift he gave was not a new teaching or idea, but his body. His presence. The promise that, no matter what, Jesus would always be with us. And be with us in a way we could touch and taste and smell and see. Because it matters.
We come to know God not through lofty theological thinking, but through our life in our bodies. We learn love through the hands that have held us. We learn peace through the calm presence of others. We learn grace through the ones who show up when we need it. And we see God most fully in the broken body of Jesus, broken for each and every one of you.
The gift of Maundy Thursday is the gift of his body, received by this body, together. And I, for one, long for and pray for the day when we are together again to share that gift. And until then, may the presence of God sustain you in your faith, mind, body, and soul.