Broken Bodies - For You

Body being loaded onto refrigerator truck

If you're gathering for in-person services this Easter, you're missing the whole point.

We all wish the times were different. Many of us are missing the comforts of sharing our rituals and traditions with others. But if you're actually mad that you can't gather for Holy Week services, let me gently suggest that you're missing the point of Holy Week. And, if you're opening your church doors and inviting people to gather, I would go as far as to say that you aren't just missing the point, you are negating it altogether. This year in our various degrees of isolation, filled with anxiety and dread, boredom and exhaustion, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity truly to understand what all those services we are missing have been about. More than that, we have a unique opportunity to live it.

Today we remember that Jesus gathered with his closest disciples to observe Passover--you know, that time when the Hebrew slaves were under a strict stay-at-home order as the cries of death surrounded them. The next day they would make a run for their lives into the harsh desert, where they would live and die for a generation. Not even Moses got to enter the Promised Land. It was those born and formed in the desert who entered after 40 long years.

With that on his mind, Jesus announces that the wine they are drinking at dinner is his shed blood and the broken bread is his broken body. Broken, he said, for you. I wonder if his hands trembled any. After all, within hours of that meal he would be sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and asking if God might consider a Plan B. His answer came within hours as he was arrested, mocked, and tortured through the night. His disciples suddenly decided to self-isolate and denied knowing him.

What was symbolized at that last meal with his disciples became reality on Friday, as Jesus experienced the physical breaking of his body and the actual shedding of his blood. First he was beaten, then forced to carry his own heavy instrument of execution uphill, was nailed to it, and when Sabbath was about to begin at sundown, they lanced his side with a spear to be sure he was dead. It was an unjust death carried out by an occupying power--an execution designed for non-Romans only--to torture and humiliate the person while also terrorizing others into compliance.

Why did Jesus endure it? Why didn't he put up a defense at the mockery of a trial he received? Why did he quietly give every last ounce of his strength to carry his own cross and not put up a fight? To upend human ideas of strength and power. He first tried to teach it: The last shall be first, the greatest love is to give up your life for another, the true leader is the one who takes the lowliest job of service, the one who is invited to the best seat at the banquet is the one who chooses the worst. But that's a hard message to absorb. So instead of just speaking those truths, he physically showed us the source of God's greatest strength--the willingness to be broken for others, even unto death. No tomb can hold such power.

As we sit isolated to one degree or another, let us open our eyes. Just as those in Jesus day could physically watch Jesus being broken in real time, we can see and even participate in the brokenness that leads to resurrection. We can watch those on the front lines of the pandemic in real time. They are people of all faiths and no professed faith at all, offering their own bodies for breaking--for us. We can feel our own brokenness--in illness, in loss, in terror of what we see and of what we can't see. We can offer the broken connections that came with in-person contact and the blood we sweat in loneliness and anxiety for the sake of those who might be saved by our staying home. We can offer to be broken so that others don't need to be.

Being a disciple of Jesus doesn't mean spouting some magic words, and it certainly doesn't mean that we are exempt from suffering. I mean, look at what happened to the guy we follow. Look at the symbol we hang around our necks! Being a disciple of Jesus means doing what he did. "As the Father has sent me," said Jesus to his disciples in John 20:21, "so I am sending you." We're it now. We are called to continue to show that God's ways are not human ways and that the willingness to be broken for others is the path to life for the world. The Christian calling is not to say, "Why me?" but rather to be the ones who say, "Why not me? Why should it have to be you? I'll do it. I'm willing to be broken for you."

What is being asked of us in these days is hard. And it's going to continue to be hard for some time. It will get worse before it gets better. We can rage against it if we want. We can pretend it's not needed and go about our business, demanding that others risk their lives so that we can avoid the hard stuff. But this week calls us with screaming sirens to stop and consider the message of this holiest week in the Christian year--the message that proclaims holiness in broken bodies and shed blood and offers it to the world as the food for life.

Right this minute others are offering their own broken bodies for us. Can we not offer at least a bit of our own breaking for someone else? Must we demand the comforts of our lilies and hymns and alleluias and try to siphon our lives off the brokenness of others? Can we--on this week of all weeks--not take up the way of the Cross? It is the only way out of the tomb.

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