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Hebrews 10:1-10 

 

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'" When he said above, "You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), then he added, "Behold, I have come to do your will." He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (ESV)

The "Ick" Factor

Monday of Pentecost 2

23 June 2014

When I was a seminary student, the professors who taught preaching advised that the content of our sermons should not disturb the breakfast of our hearers, by being crude or unsavory. John Chrysostom seems not to have had a similar training or just ignored it, if he did. In his sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:21-24, he used some ugly metaphors to describe the full meaning of the triumph of the body of Christ over death. He speaks of Christ's destruction of death as the splitting open of a dragon or as a vomiting forth the dead unto life. Ick! But there is a significant ick factor in every day life. Many of the new parents in our congregation are finding out about the various bodily discharges that can come out of the most cherubic child. I tease the new fathers that their suits do not look as they did before having children. Now the new parents' clothing is marked by spit up, formula, and other unmentionable baby gifts. When I was disgusted by the ick factor created by our children, my wife would just say without a trace of sympathy, "Get over it. It's life." How right she was.

 

Death certainly has an ick factor to it, as hospice workers will readily testify. Pastors too, see plenty of the ick factor in hospitals and at death beds. That's OK. It's life. The ultimate ick factor that belongs to death is the terror it holds for those who know not the Life, who is Christ. Death has a terrifying and unknown character to it. The Life has torn the guts out of death. That Life has come among us born of the Virgin Mary and bore human flesh, that that body of Christ might be the instrument of death's demise. Yes, death worked his worst upon this body upon the tree, swallowing Him whole. The writer to the Hebrews quotes the Psalm (40:6-8) which speaks of the body of Christ, "a body have you prepared for me" (Heb 10:5). This is the body that was crucified for us sinners. But death could not hold His body, which was not like the bodies of His brothers, but possessed by right the indestructible life that was assured by His divine nature. Death could not hold Him. He burst asunder the dragon of death. He does not sedately, or politely, remove Himself from death's jaws. He is not merely spit upon the shore of life by the great fish, as was Jonah. But the enemy of death was shattered into pieces by His powerful resurrection from the midst of death.

 

There is quite a significant ick factor in this picture, with the vision of steaming and bloody offal strewn about as the Life burst forth from the guts of death. But the Life comes to our rescue in times when the ick factor is also high. Will Christ and His holy angels not surround my bed when I am dying? Is His holiness so pristine and unapproachable that He would not be with me in the sick room when my child is running a high fever and throwing up? Will He not condescend to hear my prayers when I am cleaning up after an aging parent who has lost control of their bodily functions? Of course He will be. He is not put off by the ick factor. He Himself burst the body of death apart. He Himself was disgorged with all the dead by rising to newness of life. He lives in it so that we might have His glorious body granted to us in the Lord's Supper.

 

He says, "Take eat, this is my body." The skeptic says, "Oh yeah, then what? Will the body of Christ be digested in the stomach of those who eat? Then what? Etc." Certainly the ick factor might lead us to question the kind of presence the Lord is sharing with us. Our Lord doesn't bother to answer our scrupulous questions, as we try to avoid the ick factor for Him. But when has the Lord ever avoided our need in the midst of the ickiness of life and death? Never. Let us not scruple for the Lord, but rejoice that He has not avoided the ickiness of our sin and borne our flesh, that we might be redeemed by Him. He can take care of it, because He has shattered death in His own body on the tree.

 

John Chrysostom

 

"Ask death, 'How is it that your sting has been taken away? How has your victory been abolished? Your sinews cut out? How have you become the laughing-stock of girls and children, who were before a terror even to kings and to all righteous men?' And death will ascribe it to the Body of Christ. For when He was crucified, then were the dead raised up, then was that prison burst, and the gates of brass were broken, and the dead were loosed, and the keepers of hell's gate all cowered in fear. Had Christ been one of the many, death on the contrary should have become more mighty; but it was not so. For He was not one of the many. Therefore was death dissolved.

 

"As those who take food which they are unable to retain, vomit up also what was previously ingested by them; so also it happened unto death. That Body, which death could not digest, it received: and therefore had to cast forth that which it had ingested. Yes, death suffered in pain, while he held Christ, and was distressed until He vomited Him up. Therefore, the Apostle said, 'Loosing the pangs of death' (Acts 2:24). For no woman in labor was so full of anguish as death was when it was torn and racked to pieces, while it held the Body of the Lord. What happened in the myth of the Babylonian dragon (Tiamat), who when, having taken the food it burst apart in the middle,also happened to death. For Christ came not forth again by the mouth of death, but having burst apart and ripped up in the very middle, the belly of the dragon, thus from His secret chambers (Ps 19:5) gloriously He came forth and flung abroad His beams not to this heaven alone, but to the very throne most high. For even to there He carried it up.

 

"This Body He has given to us both to hold and to eat; a thing appropriate to intense love. For those whom we kiss vehemently, we oft-times even bite with our teeth. Therefore also Job, indicating the love of his servants towards him, said, that they often, out of their great affection towards him, said, 'Oh! that we were filled with his flesh' (Job 31:31; Heb). Even so Christ has given to us to be filled with His flesh, drawing us on to greater love."

 

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 24.7  
 
Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, I thank and praise You for feeding me with the life-giving body and blood of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Send Your Holy Spirit that, having received the holy Sacrament, I may by faith obtain and eternally enjoy Your divine grace, the forgiveness of sins, unity with Christ, and life eternal; through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.

 

For Mamisoa Randrianasolo, that the Lord Jesus would grant her strength and healing

 

For all who are bearing crosses, that they would be strengthened by Jesus to face that challenge

 

For rain, that those who are in need of moisture would receive the heavenly refreshment to sustain plants, animals, and people

 

For all those who have suffered the loss of loved ones, that they would mourn with the hope of the resurrection and the life of the world to come 
Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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