One of the oldest heresies to challenge early Christianity was called Gnosticism. It held that God’s truth was available only to insiders who were truly enlightened, a real spiritual elite. Faith was a matter of the mind and spirit, while anything related to the body was debased and inherently bad.
Running a close second to Gnosticism was the heresy of Docetism, which held that Jesus only appeared to be human. He didn’t really face temptation, have physical needs, and actually hang on a cross. (The cross was a doozie of a special effect.) Jesus was totally spirit, but in a way we could see (or at least we thought we could see).
What these two heresies have in common is their downplaying of Jesus’ body (and of the inherent value of human bodies). They make Christian faith a dis-embodied spirituality – something that only happens in our heads and hearts (or only on Sundays…). And in doing so, they perpetuate the stereotype that bodies – and all that comes with them - only lead to trouble and shame. And these heresies are still with us today.
If there’s anything that the Coronavirus and its accompanying isolation have affirmed for us, it’s that bodies matter. Bodies can be for spreading both healing and sickness. Our physical bodies are where our life and faith are lived out and practiced. And it’s crucially important for people to gather together physically – whether for worship or around a coffee-table or taking a walk. We miss contact so much because we need it so much. We are not disembodied, disinterested souls. It seems so obvious to say these things, but I dare say we might gain a new appreciation for this truth.
Followers of Jesus are, ingeniously, called the “body of Christ.” That’s not just a metaphor, it’s really true – not only when we gather, but perhaps even more when we stretch our aching muscles and reach out into the world.
Bob Jacobs is Pastor of Westminster Church, Rapid City. Check out his personal blog at www.brittlecrazyglass.wordpress.com.