Something happens to our bodies about the time we turn 30. Things stop working like they once could and illnesses take a greater toll and become much more difficult to get over. The Avett Brothers recently released a song that says this:
Call the Smithsonian I made a discovery
Life ain’t forever and lunch isn’t free
Loved ones will break your heart with or without you
Turns out we don’t get to know everything
Get the young scientists, tell them come quick
I must be the first man that’s ever seen this
Lines on my face, my teeth are not white
My eyes do not work and my legs don’t move right.
– The Avett Brothers, Smithsonian
Several weeks ago on a Sunday morning I woke up queasy and I knew it wasn’t just nervousness about preaching. My daughter had had a stomach virus a couple of days earlier. So when I woke up feeling unsettled, and then when my wife woke up a few minutes after me and she said she felt queasy, too, I knew some rough hours were coming. I prayed right then and there – “God, if you can help me hold it together until 12:15 so that I can get this sermon preached in both services, after I get home you can let this hit me as hard as it has to.”
Well, God was faithful to God’s end of the deal. I kept my distance from the congregation that morning, and I made it to 12:15, put on my Green Bay Packers gear and then collapsed onto my bed, which I did not leave except to go to the bathroom for the next 36 hours. I couldn’t even get up and cheer when Mason Crosby kicked the winning field goal. My body has never felt that bad in my whole life. I ached in places I didn’t know you could ache. My body was getting all out of sorts and I couldn’t get comfortable…just miserable.
Now after I recovered, I’ve had several weeks to ponder about not so much the getting older part, but the mystery of how a body processes and responds to an illness. The body is an amazing thing – sometimes extremely fragile, at other times remarkably resilient. It’s amazing how all the parts of the body are intertwined and interconnected, to such a degree that when one part hurts, the whole body hurts with it. Yet at the same time, while the body might be wiped out, there are still some things that you have to do to sustain you through those rough times; even when you have the stomach flu, you have to keep eating and drinking to stay hydrated and get some nourishment to the body for the sake of its survival and recovery.
And then there’s the first meal you have after the virus is finally gone – is there anything quite like that satisfaction? It’s not like you’re able to eat a filet mignon and lobster tail right away, but just the feeling of health and life and strength come back; it’s so refreshing to eat and know it’s going to stay down.
To put it another way – during the sickness, at times it felt like I was getting dismembered – my body was being torn in pieces. And the last thing I felt I had the strength to do was to piece my body together and eat and drink. When my feet couldn’t get me to the kitchen, what had to happen? My wife or the kids had to bring me something.
When our bodies are all out sorts and we feel dismembered, the way to get well again is through a process we might call re-membering, putting the members back together, and this is best done through nourishment of a meal – to practice and celebrate recovery from an ailment, to get healthy again, to gain strength so that the body, now made well, can go on about its purpose – vitality! Life!
There are times when the body, that is, the church, is out of sorts too. Fractured relationships, broken trust, as Paul alludes to in his letter to the contentious Corinthians, jealousy over not getting to be the part of the body you want to be, pride – all of these and more tend to dismember us, if not in actual people leaving the church, at least in a virtual distance even if we’re in the same space to worship or to learn or to break bread. There are times where you just don’t “feel like” it…like breaking bread with him or her or them. “Ugh! I have to share at the table with them?”
But Jesus has said that when we come together to break this bread and drink this cup, we are to remember him. Remember by recalling the mighty acts of redemption through Jesus Christ, but also by re-membering: putting the members of the body back together, through a meal of reconciliation – a meal to restore fellowship, to practice the presence of God and to be truly present to one other, to gain nourishment so that the body, being made well by the mystery of God’s grace, can go on as a body sent out into the world to share that grace with those who are broken and hurting, with those who for some reason or another haven’t made it to the table yet.
We come to the table and the words are spoken – make these elements Christ’s body and blood so that we, that is, the church, might be the body of Christ for the world around us – the world outside these walls. This isn’t a private meal, but an open one so that we all can experience God’s healing grace and become more faithful and empowered to be, as we have envisioned – “…the hands, feet, and voice – the whole body – of Jesus Christ.”
Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.