Flesh Remade
Thursday of Pentecost 11
9 August 2018
While standing over my father's casket with my mother, a sudden widow, just before his funeral, we shared a quiet moment of grief. She caressed his hands composed in prayer and ran her fingers over his knuckles swollen by a life of toil. Without looking up she intoned, "He's cold." It seemed impossible that he should be gone. She was groping to come to terms with his passing. The realization that the labor-calloused hands that had held hers for so many years would never again touch her face, brought home to her heart his death. His waxen flesh was prepared for its looming grave, "which he feared as little as his bed." But its flesh consuming blackness was a pit that seemed to swallow her hope and return only the ashen breath of grief. Flesh in the casket is altogether at its worst, no matter how well the undertaker does his job. Life had fled.
 
Yet life-fleeing flesh could not put on immortality (1Co 15:53), until life had fled. At its worst, flesh is on the cusp of inheriting its best. The flesh's weakness and poverty only glorify God because He recreates in Christ our worst, so that through His weakness our worst becomes our best. What is perverse and decayed becomes pristine. Only in Christ's offering of His flesh to the nails and hammers is there the granting of life to our flesh. He is scarred that we might be healed. His flesh is ripped that ours might be mended. His life poured out, that ours might be returned to us.
 
None of these gracious blessings would be ours had not our forerunner, Adam, fallen into sin and become subject to death. The Easter Vigil hymn: "Exultet," calls this the felix culpa, "the blessed sin." This is a great irony, possible only after the fall. The flesh only receives in Christ what was made necessary by the fall itself. It is something like trading up to a better car, after wrecking one, when the insurance company pays you more than you expect for your wrecked vehicle. Christ's redemption of our human flesh, returns it to us in better condition than Adam's flesh in the garden, for we have flesh now cleansed, not by any ordinary means, but by God's Son who assumed human flesh of Mary. We can hardly despise the flesh when the flesh's weakness receives such enormous gifts in Christ.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

  Tertullian
"Shall that very flesh, which the divine Creator formed with His own hands in the image of God; which He animated with His own breath, after the likeness of His own vital vigor; which He set over all the works of His hand, to dwell among, to enjoy, and to rule them; which He clothed with His sacraments and His instructions; whose purity He loves, whose mortifications He approves; whose sufferings for Himself He deems precious. Shall that flesh, so often brought near to God, not rise again? God forbid, that He should abandon to everlasting destruction the labor of His own hands, the care of His own thoughts, the receptacle of His own breath, the queen of His creation, the inheritor of His own liberality, the priest of His religion, the champion of His testimony, the sister of His Christ!
 
"We know by experience the goodness of God. From His Christ we learn that He is the only God, and the very good. Now, as He requires from us love to our neighbor after love to Himself (Mt 22:37-40), so He will Himself do that which He has commanded. He will love the flesh which is, so very closely and in so many ways, His neighbor. He will love it, although infirm, since His strength is made perfect in weakness (2Co 12:9); although deranged, since 'those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick' (Lk 5:31); although not honorable, since 'on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor' (1Co 12:23); although ruined, since He says, 'I am come to save the lost' (Lk 19:10); although sinful, since He says, 'Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?' (Ez 18:23); although condemned, for says He, 'I wound and I heal' (Deut 32:39). Why reproach the flesh with those conditions which wait for God, which hope in God, which receive honor from God, and which He rescues? I venture to declare, that if such casualties as these had never befallen the flesh the bounty, the grace, the mercy, and indeed all the beneficent power of God, would have had no opportunity to work." 

Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 9
1 Corinthians 15:42-57

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
 
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(ESV)
Prayer
Dear Lord Christ, You have loved our flesh, although it is infirm, because Your strength is made perfect in weakness. Grant that our weakness might inherit the strength of Your flesh assumed of Mary, that we might have flesh renewed by You. Amen.
 
For Bob Schreiner, that the holy angels would watch over him

For Sophia Benton, that she might grow and be strengthened in her body and spirit

For all those who are struggling with their guilt, that they might attend to the word of Christ who calls them into His care
 
For all those who serve the church's proclamation of Christ in the visual or plastic arts, that Christ might be glorified in the world through their work
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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