Rev. Jim Ryan, PhD — email@example.com
Co-pastor of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community
“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
Where morning dawns, where evening fades,
You call forth songs of joy.”
Who would have guessed that the body would be center-stage in a worldwide life and death struggle in the 21st Century? Aren’t we the smart ones, the masters of technology & industry, the makers of meaning, the scions of culture? How is it possible, for all our beating reality into submission, that fear of a virus can overtake us in a matter of mere months?
Yes, the body is in the way, even, of keeping our most sacred week’s rituals and holy gatherings from being the renewal of faith that they always are. The covid-19 body – so they tell us – acts for a time (asymptomatic, they call it) showing no symptoms of illness and then, for some, that same body becomes a corpse within a matter of hours.
What are we to make of this? How are we to see the body as a conveyor of meaning beyond being a mere purveyor of disease? Does this disease open our bodies to deeper meanings and wider interpretations of life – personally and philosophically and theologically speaking? Does this body of mine possess the transfiguring creativity of wallowing in the mire and at the same time of engaging in a caress of all that is yet to come?
This transfiguring of the body as a messenger of both hard reality and soft transcendence is an engagement in what some call carnal hermeneutics. In other words, it is to see that it is inevitable for the body to wear out, to contract disease (in some cases) and to die while at the same time to experience in touch, taste and all the senses that life which is of hope. The body in Holy Week, with all its senses alert, receptive, and active, invites us to engage in meaning – to consider carnal hermeneutics.
This is an area of study, as well as a book title, of my Philosopher companion for 2020, Richard Kearney. It is not lost on me that just as I took the deeper dive into this study of the body and its meaning experiences a truly worldwide pandemic of a virus that daily afflicts and kills emerged. Nor am I without a sense of connection that Holy Week, in our sacramental heritage, is the most tactile, corporeal time in the liturgical year. The senses are called to full response when we use things – palms, fire, water, crucifixes to kiss, pitchers & basins for foot or hand washing, oil to anoint the newly baptized – to express this faith in the Way of death to New Life.
And now our bodies must separate, be distant, isolated. There is no tactile liturgy this year, which only positions us to think further and deeper into the meaning (hermeneutics) of the body in a sacred and a cosmic context. On Kearney’s view the very tactility of the body is a pre-conceptual experience either of promise or refusal, of embrace or flight. As promise and embrace the body basks in voluptuosity – all those warm and “stop in your tracks” feelings that ground loving emotions. Yes, even erotic acts have meaning – carnality interpreting the senses.
Carnal hermeneutics by privileging the senses and sensuality gives us such an appreciation for the body, not on its path to breakdown and death, especially in a time of pandemic, but rather in its connection to what we all share as bodies of promise connecting to wider and deeper meanings of life, as in a commitment to love. This is universal body. Appreciation of the body further connects us in an embrace with all matter that ever expands and renews itself upon the Creator’s emergence – the embrace of the cosmos. Our bodies are universal and cosmic.
The Body in Holy Week returns us to the body of Jesus, the tactile assault of that body on the Cross and the promise and embrace made by that glorified body in Resurrection. We cannot allow a pandemic interfere with this Christ in our lives (body, mind, and spirit) – Christ who is universal and cosmic.
I invite you to go to Youtube.com and watch the video: “Karl Jenkins – Benedictus (A Journey through Space)” This video will give you, in my opinion, an eye opening experience of the universal and cosmic Christ. The words of the Benedictus are: “Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini” (Blessed is the One who comes in God’s Name). It goes on: “Hosanna in excelsis” (Hosanna in the highest). Just as impressive for the music alone is the video (also Youtube.com): Hauser – Benedictus.
The One who comes is Jesus who in dying and rising becomes Christ. The broken body of Jesus – in our faith – is the violently assaulted image of corporal destruction. A tactile violation, to be sure. And his transfigured, glorified body is our image of that tactile promise fulfilled. The end of the body is the beginning of our universal life in the cosmos.
The Cross of Holy Week is no longer an execution platform of inhumanity to another human. With Easter’s Rising the Cross becomes cosmic. It exists among the stars of ever expanding creation just as surely as it imprints itself in our hearts.
So, let’s preach Christ Crucified in a time of pandemic though our journey with tactile, sensual rituals of Holy Week is frustrated this year. Nonetheless, we embrace this bodily promise that we too are made of stardust and are destined in Christ to rejoin the cosmos.
A Blessing (JR)
Presider: Please extend your real and your virtual hand in blessing.
All: Though the time be strange, and our lives isolated from each other – in this gathering God’s Name be praised for uniting us in faith and connecting us in community. The Divine Healer bless us with good health and be comfort for the dying, now and evermore. Amen.
Presider: May this Holy Week open our bodies, our minds, and our spirits to the cosmos.
All: With all that is yet to come.