You might recall that a very long while ago, there was an advertising campaign with the slogan, “Say it with flowers”. I have a running joke with a friend of mine, that his wife always knows when he’s forgotten their wedding anniversary. He tries to cover his tracks but that fact that the flowers he has bought her, was a last-minute purchase from the local filling station is a bit of a give-away!
But this is of course, one of the more obvious ways in which we use physical things as a means of expressing our affection isn’t it? And, Sure enough, this weekend is probably one of the busiest of the year for the florists… as they try to accommodate all of our (floral) expressions of affection to our mums.
But it’s not confined to flowers and gifts; is it? There are times when we ourselves become a visual aid, don’t we? We like to say that someone was “there for us” don’t we? By which we mean that sometimes our physical presence means more than any actions or words we can utter.
Now, what I want to suggest this morning, is that this point is at the heart of both of our Bible readings. In our Gospel reading the question on everyone’s lips, is “who is this Jesus?” As if to press the point, Jesus says to his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God”. And in that moment of insight, Peter put into words the astonishing insight that in Jesus, God himself is “there for us”.
The point is developed by St. Paul in our Epistle: He tells us that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God…. in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”. So, as we hear in the Christmas story: Jesus is God’s way of being with us. Jesus is God’s way of saying “I love you”. As St. John put it, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son….” Jesus is God’s way of saving us. Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself”. Jesus is God’s way of speaking to us: he is the Word Made flesh. And Jesus is God’s way of guiding us: He is the Good Shepherd, the way the truth and the life. Or, to put it another way; just as we might ‘say it with flowers’: God says it with Jesus.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the little girl who woke crying in the night. “It’s alright”, said her mummy, “God is with you”. “Yes, I know”, said the little girl, “but I want somebody with skin on”. Precisely so. An anecdote which not only tells us about Jesus, “God with skin on”, but it also points out how our God chooses to carry on the practice of being present in and through the likes of you and me.
Today, we especially think about Mothers who at their best can be the vehicles of God’s love and grace; “God with skin on”…. but the same is true of all of us. The story is told of some soldiers who were passing through a French village in Normandy. Outside the local Church was a statue of Christ; but because of the fighting, his hands had been blown off. Someone had hung a notice around the neck of the statue which read, “You are my hands”. In other words, just as Jesus is God’s way of being with us, loving us, speaking to us. We are now his way of continuing this work.
Now, the mistake we might easily make at this point is to assume that the Christian life is therefore an exercise in working up some good deeds; making ourselves holier or a bit more religious. But again, we would be wrong. In a sense this is the most, simple thing in the world and yet the most challenging. Yes, our God is undoubtedly, present to us in Jesus, loving, saving, speaking and guiding. But the way our God chooses to continue all of this is by making Jesus visible in and through you and I.
St. Paul put it like this. “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me”. It sounds like extreme language but the work of the Holy Spirit within us is, as C.S. Lewis put it: So that “Every Christian will become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”
Let me give you an example: this is where we get it so wrong when it comes to funerals. Essentially, they have four purposes. Practically speaking, the reverent disposal of a body. To console those who grieve. To commend this loved one to God. But, this is the point. Despite the popularity of this phrase, a Christian funeral is emphatically not the celebration of their life. It’s so much MORE than that. This is why so many so-called secular funerals come across as such ego-centric affairs.
Yes, there is much to be thankful for but the focus in a Christian funeral is not the merits or otherwise of this much beloved person; but thanksgiving for the ways in which; yes, through their character and behaviour, the blessed Christ has been made known. “God with skin on”
St. Teresa of Ávila put it like this:
“Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
And of course, it’s not only us as individuals. Elsewhere Paul tells us that we are the body of Christ. Which puts a whole new gloss on what it means to be ‘Church’. We’re called to be ‘God with skin on’; to the glory of his name.