Note: Originally published for Church of the Epiphany-Tempe on 28 May 2020 at https://epiphanytempe.org/bodies-of-color-one-body/
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.1 Corinthians 12:24b-26 NRSV
Bodies have been in the news a lot this week. On Sunday, The New York Times used the whole of its front page to publish the names of the 100,000 dead bodies from the plague ravaging humanity right now. It painted a picture of what is happening in our nation and in the world, and it served as a stark reminder that the plague has diminished the body of humanity globally. It was a reminder that to love in the moment of a plague is to restrict ourselves for the good of the whole, as I intimated in my post a few weeks ago. While it is not possible to know the spectrum of humanity that was included in those names, we can be certain that those names reflected nearly every community of persons in the United States. We saw, in the names published on that front page, a picture of the diminishment of the body.
As the week continued, we heard another story about a body that gave up its life. This story, however, was horrific in a different sort of way. It was horrific because the death of George Floyd was caused by the action of a person who is supposed to protect. It was a death of a body that has long been viewed with derision, scorn, suspicion, and fear. It was the death of a body that has, for so very long, been thought of as outside the body of humanity that comprises the fabric of humanity within the borders of the United States. The history of how bodies of color are viewed in our country is much too long for me to even begin to cover in a simple blog post. (The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander does an admirable job of unpacking much of this.) That said, if we are being honest about our shared history in the United States, I think we can name that this view of bodies of color goes back to the pre-beginnings of our country, and rather sadly, it has become a part of the DNA of the country that continues to be passed down from generation to generation. If we want to point to a concrete example, we might recall the 3/5 compromise that counted 3 out of every 5 slaves as people. It is a horrific moment in our history as a nation in which our collective humanity was discounted.
When I was in school and learned about this particular compromise (which I believe would have been in 5th or 6th grade), I remember it being taught as something that was done only to slaves. We could not name that the diminishment of humanity in that compromise was a diminishment to the whole of humanity. It was not simply the slaves that were deprived of their full personhood; it was the whole nation that was deprived of its full personhood. In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul is admonishing the church in Corinth for the way that it fails to understand that every member of the body is vital. When one part is diminished, the whole body is diminished. He says, so very clearly, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Cor 12:26 NRSV) It was the case in the church in Corinth, in the 3/5 Compromise in the United States, in the deaths of 100,000 people from this plague, and in the death of George Floyd as a police officer kneeled on his neck.
The ways that we treat members of the body say something about who we understand our neighbor to be, which is to understand who we are called to love as an extension of the self. If we stop at the horror that comes from viewing the video of George Floyd’s last moments of life, we have not moved to the place of co-passioning that the Gospel calls us towards. If we do not see bodies of color as vital members of the whole body, we have failed to recognize those bodies as neighbors, and we have failed to understand that the suffering of those bodies of color is a suffering that is experienced by the whole of humanity, the whole of the body.
The move to take the suffering of bodies of color into the experience of the whole is to begin an attempt at putting whiteness within a rightfully ordered place within the whole of the body. I am not suggesting that the experience of persons of color be overlooked or washed out in order to avoid the difficult conversations that need to happen in America. Instead, I am attempting to suggest that the experience of the whole body must be viewed from the perspective of those walking around as people of color. For this to happen, it is important that the stories of people of color be listened to so intently and with so much love that we cannot help but co-passion with those communities that have suffered so greatly. It is an attempt to clothe those stories with greater honor and to shift our view. It is hard work that demands loving patience and a commitment to vulnerability in very public ways.
The Gospel calls us towards this co-passioning with Christ, and it might be most helpful for us to see Christ not as a Palestinian man with olive skin but as a man with skin so like the midnight sky with twinkling stars for eyes and a bright, beautiful crescent moon smile. It might be most helpful for us to see the Christ as that man as we walk that troubled road to Jerusalem. It might be most helpful for us to see that man hanging from that tree with an emaciated body dripping with disdain.
But the Gospel does not allow us to stop there. It does not allow us to stop in this moment of horror in which it is so easy for us to co-opt the Cross as an idealogical weapon, as a servant of the needs of the ego. (Williams, Resurrection, p. 72) Instead the Gospel moves us into this strange land of creativity, of surprise, of new beginnings. Here, we may need to stretch our imagination to see the Risen Christ with a body the color of the midnight sky, glowing with God’s glory, that invites us into the mystery of resurrection – into that new creation that is filled with faithfulness, with hopefulness, and with love. It is not simply to flip the dichotomy but to see the colors of humanity as equally beautiful within the glory of the resurrection. It is an invitation for us to reorder humanity into that one body that relies on the beauty and the giftedness of every single member and to live more and more fully into becoming that which God made us for: love.
In glory of this resurrected body that is glowing with the beauty of midnight, we enter into the co-passion of the body. We enter into the beauty of being made whole and incorporating the stories of the members into cohesiveness that begins to speak the truth in love and begins the challenging work of reconciliation within the body. The stranger that we greet on Easter is the very stranger that leads us into receiving that holy breath of God, which we call the Holy Spirit, on Pentecost. It is the Cristo Negro that leads us into a strange new landscape of naming new possibilities and thus the beginning of the creation of a new future. It is the Cristo Negro that leads us into the life of confession – of sin and of faith – as a matter of discipleship that transforms community. (Williams, Resurrection, p. 79)
The strangeness of Easter begins in the Gospel and continues to unfold into the present moment. We are invited into that strangeness to know the Cristo Negro as Savior and to receive that holy breath of God as a gift to be shared.
- Cristo Negro de de Esquipulas, Santa Cruz, Costa Rica. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cristo_Negro_de_Esquipulas,_Santa_Cruz,_Costa_Rica.jpgaccessed 28 May 2020
- 3/5 Compromise. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Fifths_Compromise accessed 28 May 2020.
- “Let America Be America Again By Langston Hughes – Poems | Poets.Org”. Poets.Org, Last modified 2020. https://poets.org/poem/let-america-be-america-again.
- Williams, Rowan. Resurrection. London, 2003.