Experiences of En-fleshed Humans Matter
by Father Jamin Scott David
Do you remember the first prayer that you learned? Maybe it was the classic “Our Father,” common to every single Christian denomination. As a Catholic, maybe it was the “Hail Mary” in honor of our Blessed Mother. For those of you who needed less word]s, maybe it was the “Glory Be.” But I remember the first one I learned probably because of its use of structure and rhyme:
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
When I think about it more, though, it’s kind of a disturbing prayer. First, it introduced the three year old Jamin to the reality that I might die at night. But it also reveals a startling division of the human being. The prayer doesn’t ask God to protect the body against death but it instead confesses a desire only for the protection of the soul. It’s a tacit confession that is fundamentally wrong – it is the soul that is essentially important; it’s what really matters.
The Gospels take great pains to demonstrate that the very same Jesus who became incarnate is the Jesus who ascends to heaven. Christ’s scars are shown; and those scars reveal something different, even uncomfortable, to American Christians – God is intimately concerned with the full range of incarnate human experiences and uses human bodies to bring about the Kingdom of God.
Why so important you might ask? We live in an era where the flesh and spirit dualism once again reigns. The language of piety is the salvation of the soul and the mortification of the flesh. But Jesus continues to have flesh, and his glorification happened in a body. Jesus treats other bodies like they matter. When he encounters sick bodies, he heals them. When he encounters hungry bodies, he feeds them. When he encounters bodies that have been pushed to the margins, he brings them back to the center. The body is the locus of human activity and experience, and since God himself took on flesh, we have to come to terms with the fact that Jesus’ flesh reveals to us that flesh is good, and that’s how the Kingdom of God comes.
The challenge for us is to follow the pattern. If we want to mimic his ascension, we must also mimic his earthly life which will certainly take a toll on our bodies. Our bodies will bear the scars of resisting violence. Our voices will grow tired speaking against legislation that destroys human life. Our bodies will bear God’s justice, and God’s kingdom will come.
Jesus’ ascension means our bodies are good, and that’s our good news. If you’ve been excluded because of your race, or if you’ve been kept away from something because you’re a woman; if you’ve recently become disabled or someone is telling you that you’re not useful, the Ascension of a specific, marginalized, disabled Jewish body into heaven means that experiences of en-fleshed humans matter.