Candlemas - When God had a Body

A sermon preached by Margaret Houston at an All-Age Eucharist at St George's Campden Hill on 2 February 2014

(Hold up smartphone)
These days, most people have one of these.
What are some things I can do with it?
(Take ideas from congregation – surf the internet – link in to FB and Twitter, text, Skype, make phone calls. Emphasise communication.)
There are lots of ways I can use this to keep in touch with the people I love.
But can I give someone a hug with it?
Can I use it to bring someone a cup of tea?
No. I need to use my body to do that.

When God hadn’t yet become a human being, he didn’t have a body.  Sometimes he talked to people in their hearts, or through amazing things like a burning bush.  He gave us rules to follow – the ten commandments – to show us how to live with each other.

But he couldn’t give us a hug.
He couldn’t sit next to us while we cried.
He couldn’t smile at us.
He couldn’t wash his friends’ feet, like he did the night before he died, to show us how to care for each other.
There’s something else he couldn’t do.
He couldn’t die.

Now, that sounds like a good thing.  Dying is hard – it hurt to be on the cross, and it was sad and scary for the people who loved him, for the people who believed that he was the Messiah.
But people have to die.

We don’t know why that is, but it’s always been true – everything that’s alive will die someday.  That’s what Simeon knew when he held the baby Jesus and saw the shadow, like a cross, pass across his face.  He knew that even this baby, the baby who was the light of the world, would die.  God, now that he was human and had a body ... God would die too.
Is that the end of the story?

Do you remember what Thomas read for us?  He said, “Jesus shared our humanity, so that through death he might destroy death.”

When God became a human being, that meant he could die.  But that meant God could get inside death itself and fight death for us, and win.  He could show us that his love, and his new life, was stronger than death, stronger than fighting and hurting and cheating and killing.

So let’s think about Simeon’s question ... the question he wondered when he saw all the people who were poor, and sick, and scared, and lonely. The question he wondered when he saw all the fighting and hurting and cheating and killing.  That question was “where is God?”

And Simeon’s answer came when he held the Baby Jesus, and he knew that God was right there, in his arms. In that baby, with those fingers and those toes, and that fuzzy hair.  God was right there, in a human body, just like ours.  The light of God had come into the world.

But that was then.  That was before that body died, and rose again, and went up to heaven.  But there are still people who are poor, and sick, and scared, and lonely.  There’s still fighting and hurting and cheating and killing.

So where is God now?
Well, God is right here.

(pick up bread and wine)
In the bread and the wine that we share together, Jesus left us a memorial of his body.  The body that shared our humanity, the body he used to heal people, to hug them, to listen to them, to smile and laugh with them.  The body he used to show us how to love each other, and the blood he used to win the fight with death.  He left those with us in the bread and the wine, so we can remember and feel him close to us.

And God is also here.  (reach arms out to congregation)
And here. (place hands on heart.)

Because God has had a body, and used it to show us how to love each other, we can choose to use our bodies to do God’s work in the world.

We can choose to use our hands to help people, or to hurt them.
We can choose to use our mouths for kind words or for hurtful ones.
We can choose to use the money our body’s work makes to buy things just for ourselves, or to share what we earn with others.

If we all choose to use our bodies the way Jesus did, then we can help each other when we are like those people Simeon saw outside the temple – when we are sick, or poor, or scared, or lonely.
It doesn’t have to be a big thing.

It can be using your hand to help someone up who has fallen.
It can be using your mouth to ask the kid who has nobody to play with if they’d like to join your game.
It can be using your legs to stand up so someone who needs your seat on the train can sit in it.
If we all do it, then the answer to Simeon’s question, “where is God?” can be, “right here, living in our hearts and our bodies, as we follow Jesus’ example.”

In the beginning, talking with God was like talking through this phone – he couldn’t touch us, or hug us, or smile at us. But then when Jesus was born, and God suddenly had a body, he could share with us everything that having a body means – all the things Thomas read about before.  Then when that body died, because that body was God’s body, he was able to fight death for us and win.  So now he’s with us in the bread and the wine, and he’s with us in each other.

I’m going to finish with a poem by a woman called Teresa, who lived in Spain about 500 years ago. 

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Holland Park Benefice