The readings for this sermon were: Acts 3:12-19, 1 John 3:1-7, and Luke 24:36b-48..
One of my favorite podcasts, RadioLab, is in the middle of a compelling series on the science and politics behind why the US-Mexico border is the way it is. This week, the show looked into why the numbers of Latin American refugees found dead in the deserts suddenly jumped in the late 1990s--from 5-10 a year to over two hundred. It turns out that right around 1994, 1995, 1996, the US Border Patrol put into effect a major shift in their enforcement strategy. By amassing huge numbers of agents at certain points right along the border, the strategy deliberately channeled migrants away from the safer, traditional border crossings in the cities and into the harshest, cruelest environs along the border.
See, policy-makers believed, and still believe, that the desert—and the inevitable deaths that would result from those perilous crossing attempts—would act as a “natural deterrent” to migration. But nature, the scientists on the podcast reveal, also plays another, even more sinister role. Anthropologist Jason De León and his colleague’s experiments with pigs in the Arizona desert demonstrated for the first time how the desert erases every scrap of a human body is under nine days. Every scrap. Even the bones are broken down and carted away by industrious ants. And since discoveries of human bodies are how the US Border Patrol counts and records the number of deaths in the desert, Jason believes that terrifying statistics is actually far higher. The truth is we will never know how many bodies are disappeared each year. How many human beings are erased.
Easter begins with a missing body. Just that morning, the women disciples discovered that Jesus’s body was gone from the tomb. Later that day, the disciples are huddled together, processing even more shocking news from two other disciples, who claim to have encountered Jesus on the way to Emmaus, recognizing him in the breaking of the bread. Then, all of a sudden, Jesus’s missing body reappears, interrupting the disciples mid-sentence. It’s his body that’s so startling here. It’s his body that is called attention to. It’s his body that has broken all the rules.
Jesus is not a ghost, but a body. And not just a body, a living, breathing, hungry body that needs to eat. That still bears the wounds of the crucifixion. “Touch and see,” says Jesus. Touch and see the fleshy, bony-ness of me.
We live in a world that erases bodies that break the rules. In the light of Easter morning, how are we called to be church in such a world? What does sanctuary and welcome when we stand in the presence of Jesus’s resurrected body?
Bodies in general have a habit of interrupting things. Without warning, our own bodies disrupt carefully laid plans. They betray us, our senses of self. They burp and squeak, stumble and fall ill. Then, out in the world, many of us learn that our bodies are just plain in the way. Have you ever walked into a room and realized, immediately, that you stuck out? That your body didn’t quite belong but there was nothing you could do? Maybe it was the color of your skin or the style of your hair, your wrinkles, your tattoos, your limp. Extra weight or missing limbs. Or maybe it’s because your body parts just don’t quite fit into someone else’s categories. Were you welcomed? Could you receive welcome? And when you were, was it in spite of, or because of, the ways your body broke the rules?
As a teenage girl, I learned that my body, in its developing femaleness, was distracting to my peers. In another country, I learned that my body, in its whiteness and foreignness, did not belong. And every day, as a woman in this culture, I learn and re-learn that my body is supposed to be fixed and plucked and shaped and covered over. Every day, I’m taught to hope that the weirdness of my body can be overlooked.
We live in a world that looks past bodies that get in the way. And yet, Jesus says, touch and see. Jesus’s humanness, his aliveness, is located in his resurrected body. In his wounds, and in his hunger. Jesus’s resurrected body is not something to look past. It demands our gaze.
The bodily resurrection we proclaim in the Easter season dares to announce that we, too, are people and human and alive not in spite of our bodies, we are human because of them. Someone’s body-ness, their blackness or queerness, their disability or their age, they’re not physical accidents to politely disregard at all, they're intrinsic parts of human dignity to be honored and celebrated, touched and seen and loved.
As much as my body is so often a source of frustration and limitation and shame, every scar and every muscle and yes, every stretch-mark, is a map of my story. Because of Jesus, I get to trust that none of this, none of the love and joy and triumph over pain written into my flesh, is erased forever by death.
Easter dares us to dream, like Ezekiel, of dry bones in the desert. Of bone on bone, sinew on sinew, of a great rattling and a new breath of life. Jesus’ bodily resurrection dares us to hope that the bodies in the deserts of human cruelty and neglect, the people disappeared and erased, are not forgotten. Jesus’s resurrection dares us to reach out as if all bodies are human, worthy being touched, and seen, and loved.
What does the Easter interruption mean for bodies that walk into this room? The bodies we encounter throughout our lives? For our own?
At the Eucharist table, here, today, we are invited to encounter Christ’s body. To allow him to interrupt our brokenness. To take him, tangibly, into our bodies with the words “This is the body of Christ.”
May we touch and see and remember.