Ahmad Odeh / Unsplash

Christians have often had a paradoxical perspective concerning the human body. One of the (unfortunately) influential ideas about the body is that it is a problem: a worthless, sinful shell in which our soul exists until it can be freed through death to live eternally with God. At the same time, one of the bedrocks of Christian belief is that Jesus was God incarnate. In Christ, God took on human flesh and became like us to redeem us. Is the body profane or holy? Clearly, the human body can’t be all bad if Jesus is the word that became flesh.

Many churches have a good track record of ministering to the spiritual and emotional dimensions of our humanity, but as Dorothy Bass points out on PracticingOurFaith.orgwe still have work to do in living out the gospel in our body. Our body is sacred because we are made in the image of God. As the injured and the aging know all too well, the body is vulnerable and in need of care and compassion. The way we dress, touch and express ourselves through the body is inseparable from the belief that God dwells within us.

In traditional African American congregations, people typically wear “church clothes” for worship even though casual attire has been a trend among U.S. congregations for years. The practice of dressing up is rooted in the belief that the way you adorn your body for worship reflects your respect for God. In addition, Black and brown bodies have historically been viewed as less worthy in our culture. Dressing up for church was a way to cultivate an intrinsic sense of self-worth for those living in marginalized bodies.

Pastoral leaders can have a profound influence on the way members understand the goodness of the human body. In our sermons and by our example, we either communicate that the body is a problem or a blessing. This Eastertide, as we live into the truth of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, how can we help Christians honor the body as a sacred gift from God?


Resources

Honoring the Body

From PracticingOurFaith.org

The purpose of rest is to enable us to work more, right?

Deeply and faithfully loving and caring for oneself is enough — it’s not just a pause between activities, writes a seminary professor and psychologist.

By Chanequa Walker-Barnes

Bodies and heresy

When we fail to take care of our bodies, we are guilty of “flabby Gnosticism” — the notion that bodies don’t matter as much as souls.

By Heather Moffitt

Will this work make me sick?

Our discernment processes don’t often consider the physical sustainability of our work, but Christian leaders have a theological obligation to explore this question.

By Gretchen E. Ziegenhals

Public health from the pulpit: First steps for clergy to help create healthier communities

The gap between clergy and health professionals is hard to bridge, but pastors and Christian leaders can begin with some simple steps to help their communities flourish.

By Alejandra Salemi


Before you go…

After God raised Jesus from the dead, Mary’s first instinct was to embrace him. She wanted to express the overwhelming joy of the moment by hugging Jesus’ body.

Our body has not yet been transformed as his was. We still need rest, exercise, medicine, touch, food and healing. We are called to honor our bodies, which is different than worshipping and making idols of our bodies. To honor the body is to respect its Creator, complexity, dignity, abilities and limitations. Let’s reexamine the practices of our faith and find new ways to affirm the body as a temple of the living God.

You can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity


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