Flesh Made Holy
Tuesday of Pentecost 11
7 August 2018
The early church had a deep respect for the things of the body. The martyrs remains were often gathered by the church and interred in great honor, even, in some cases, kept for viewing. In due time, this gave birth to collections of "relics," literally the remainders of such bodies and their accouterments. We find this fascination with the remains of the blessed dead a bit macabre. And as the dark ages blossomed into the high middle ages, every church worth its salt had some bit or piece of this martyr, that saint, or a sliver of the true cross. When Martin Luther burst onto the scene in the sixteenth century, the proliferation of both legitimate and silly relics caused the church to be brought into disrepute. It was said that there were enough pieces of the true cross to build a whole cathedral with them or enough of the nails with which Christ was crucified to shoe every horse in Germany. Such mockery had its place, as the church had taken the focus away from Christ and His work, and directed it upon the human veneration of relics.
This abuse of the relics of the dead was inappropriate and hurtful to the church and her teaching. However, there is certainly biblical warrant for treating the remains of the blessed dead with honor and respect. After John the Baptizer was beheaded by mad Herod, his grieving disciples went to his prison and "came and took his body and laid it in a tomb" (Mk 6:29). So, while, they did not have access to his severed head, John's disciples gave the body of the messianic harbinger a proper burial. They must have approached Herod's prison with deep trepidation, for if this is what happens to the teacher, what will happen to his students? Yet they risked Herod's ire to treat John's remains with respect. What God had created needed to be treated rightly, no matter what humans had done to deface His creation.
The created flesh Christ has assumed in His incarnation, is also the means through which our Lord gives us Himself to us. He is cloaked in flesh that He might come among us and cleanse our flesh in His own incarnation. The flesh of Christ, born of Mary, bore the divine nature, so that "in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:9). What we are in the flesh has been shaped by our God's adoption of our flesh in the incarnation. Christ's flesh was beaten by rods. His scalp was scarred by the crown of thorns. His hands were pierced by the nails. All these, which He bore in His flesh, made holy our flesh.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

"Consider the special relation of the flesh to Christianity, and see what a great privilege before God has been conferred on this poor and worthless substance. It is sufficient to say that there is not a soul that could reach salvation, except by believing in the flesh, so true is it that the flesh is the pivot on which salvation hinges. And since the soul is, in consequence of its salvation, called to the service of God, it is the flesh which actually renders it capable of such service. The flesh, indeed, is washed, in order that the soul may be cleansed. The flesh is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated. The flesh is signed with the cross, that the soul may be fortified. The flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands, that the soul also may be illuminated by the Spirit. The flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul may be enriched on God. They cannot then be separated in their recompense, when they are united in their service.
"Those sacrifices, moreover, which are acceptable to God-I mean conflicts of the soul, fastings, and abstinences, and the humiliations which are added to such duty-it is the flesh which performs again and again to its own special suffering. Virginity, likewise, and widowhood, and the modest restraint in secret on the marriage-bed, and the single adoption of it, are fragrant offerings to God paid out of the good services of the flesh. Come, tell me what is your opinion of the flesh, when it has to contend for the name of Christ, dragged out to public view, and exposed to the hatred of all men. When it pines in prisons under the cruelest deprivation of light, in banishment from the world, amidst squalor, filth, and foul food, without freedom even in sleep, for it is bound on its pallet and mangled in its bed of straw. When at length before public view the flesh is racked by every kind of torture that can be devised, and when finally it is spent beneath its agonies, struggling to render its last turn for Christ by dying for Him-upon His own cross many times, not to say by still more atrocious devices of torture. Most blessed, truly, and most glorious, must be the flesh which can repay its Master Christ so vast a debt, and so completely, that the only obligation remaining due to Him is, that it should cease by death to owe Him more-all the more bound even then in gratitude, because (forever) set free." 

Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 8
Matthew 27:27-37

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."
Lord Jesus, born of the Virgin and made flesh for us, return our flesh to us cleansed through baptism. Amen.
For Debbie Campbell as she convalesces from surgery, that the Lord Jesus Christ would be all her strength
For the lay leaders of Memorial Lutheran Church as they work to support the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ in Houston and around the world, that God the Holy Spirit would grant them wisdom and strength
For students in colleges and universities everywhere, that they might not be kept from full enquiry into the divine things by the narrow-mindedness of materialists
For all veterans and their families, that the Prince of Peace might be all their hope
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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