From Chris Allison
I think about the body a lot—but in an admittedly strange way. I spend my days trying to get into other people’s heads about what they think about the body, why they want to capture it, collect it, treasure it, or trash it. And, in an elliptical way, I simultaneously think about my own body, a Christian body, one that, in Paul’s apt word “groans” in expectation of redemption.
Paul was a tent maker. And as such, he probably spent a lot of time thinking about dwellings as he sewed, cut, and wove his tents together, and tried to sell them across the Roman Empire. But as he moved across the Mediterranean world—as a Jew and a Roman citizen—he probably thought about home a lot. Where was his home? And in this passage of Corinthians he uses tents as a metaphor for the body, its present and future—and to talk about homes.
It is a remarkable passage. If our earthly “tent” is destroyed, Paul writes, God has a “house” for us, not made by human hands, but “eternal in the heavens.” The shaky, temporary, and frail dwelling we are born with is replaced with a home made by God, made of eternal stuff, that is joyfully not of our (or Paul’s) own making. It is waiting for us to inhabit—and we are filled with longing to do so—groaning, burdened in anticipation. In the meantime we are betwixt and between, “while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
There are two conversation partners that hover over Paul’s discussion of the body. The words of Jesus, as recorded in John 14: 1-3, where Jesus tells his disciples that “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[b] 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Paul gives us commentary on Jesus’ words, and shifts the meaning of the Jesus’ use of house to mean body. In preparation of our resurrection, we will rise to meet Christ to be “further clothed” in a new body prepared for us by our creator and savior. But Paul adds the vital connection we have to this future state through the Holy Spirit, what Jesus called the “Comforter,” binding us in hope via faith to our future embodiment. He also is in conversation with Diogenes the Cynic—a crucial (and eccentric) philosophical voice in the Greek-speaking world—who famously told his followers that upon his death they should hurl his body over the city gates to be consumed by animals. Paul rejects this. The body matters. It may break down, desire sinful things, creak, gray, sag, and get sick. But —it awaits—in the beautiful phrase—“to be swallowed up in life.”
But it matters further. Even if we are living in a breaking down home, away from our perfect home prepared by God, “we make it our aim to please God. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” And so holiness is our pursuit, fixing up this troubling, all-too-sinful makeshift dwelling—through the power of God within us—in anticipation of the God we love to make good on his “guarantee” to bring us home. No longer living in tents, but back home to Life itself—swallowed up in the life of God.
I spend most of my days writing a dissertation on early American history. I live in Watertown with my beautiful family. I like to bike, visit Boston’s great museums, and geek out with others. I feel blessed to have been a part of Church of the Cross for the last five years.