ACNA Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent:
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Something that Christians are getting better at acknowledging, but that they've ignored in the past, is that the body was created good. That's one of the things that separates us from other religions. Other religions talk about transcending or escaping your body, but Christians value the body, because we believe God values the body.
The collect begins, “You know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” Now, this has always been true from the beginning of creation, and I think that the denial of this fact is ultimately the cause of the Fall that we see in Genesis 3. If we go back to the first two chapters of Genesis, what we see is that creation was a gift, right? God creates light and he says it's good. He separates the waters; it's good. God raises the land from the from under the waters; it's good. The birds of the air are good, the beasts of the field are good. The trees, the fish are good, and human beings are good. And at the end, God looks over everything he made, and what did he say? “It was very good.”
But then the honeymoon period ends. The serpent approaches Eve. And he gets Adam and Eve to believe the lie that they could be God to themselves, and for themselves. He first got them to distrust that God was a good provider who told the truth. Remember, he says, “Did God say that you shall not eat from the tree?” And once he gets them to to doubt God, to distrust that he's telling them the truth and that he wants what's best for them, he feeds pride to them until they think they can provide for themselves. He says, "You're not gonna die. God doesn't want you to eat from the tree because he knows that you’ll be like him. You'll know good and evil. You’ll be able to rule this earth."
So Christianity has always insisted that we’re totally reliant upon God for everything, all the time. And it's really easy to forget this, particularly in today's culture. There are lots of things that are fine, in and of themselves, but it's so easy to use them and forget that we’re reliant on God. The internet, for instance, allows us to be in all places at all times. It also allows us to do things that it would never have been thought possible for human beings to do before the internet. We have so much power we can almost create out of nothing. It’s a parody of God’s creation; it’s a great distraction that Satan uses. But we have to remember that we rely on God for everything.
And we see Jesus do this when he's tempted in the desert. Remember, after Satan tempts him to turn stones to bread, Jesus says, “Man does not live by bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And forgetting that is what lands us in a heap of trouble.
Let's move on to the next part of the collect: “Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls.” This sentence does a great job of reminding us that our bodies are just as important to God as our souls. And we see in Scripture that both have been affected by the Fall. The curses that God pronounces on Adam and Eve affect both the body and the soul.
Adam receives the curse of futility in work. It's no longer going to be a nice Saturday afternoon in the garden. There’s going to be thorns in the ground, the dirt is gonna be packed harder. You’re going to slip and fall and break your ankle. That's a physical curse. There's also a mental and spiritual component to that though, right? When we feel like our work is futile, it's depressing. It gets us down. It's so much harder to work when you feel like it's going nowhere.
Eve gets pain in childbearing. Obviously, that's a curse with bodily effects. But there's also a psychological and spiritual element to this. Because bringing up children doesn't stop after childbirth, right? Children cause parents pain all the time. Just ask my parents!
There's also relational pain between the sexes. And this does seem like mostly a spiritual kind of pain. But we see that broken relationships between husbands and wives often have bodily consequences. We can see in the Bible and in history how women have been treated poorly by men who “rule over them”—psychologically, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Even today, unfortunately, this tradition of ruling over wives continues.
Souls, as well as our bodies—every part of us—has been affected by the Fall. Because we have to remember we're not just souls. We're also bodies, right? American Christianity doesn’t always do a good job of remembering that truth, but we are also bodies. Christians have insisted on that from the beginning, since before we were called Christians. It comes from our Jewish roots, from Genesis 1 and 2: “It was very good.” Our bodies have been affected and cursed by the Fall.
But the great message of the Christian faith is salvation, right? It's redemption, it's reconciliation. Jesus Christ is the savior of humanity, the savior of the world. And because we we are embodied souls, God redeems the body as well as the soul, in the Incarnation of Jesus. Jesus became one with us as a human person—body and soul. That's the beginning of the good news! It was important for him to put on flesh. Remember Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus experienced our bodily temptations, our bodily shortcomings, our pain. And he's redeemed all of that.
Redemption has effects for our bodies as well as our souls. He's freed creation from the stranglehold we put on it in the Fall, and we look forward to the day when the old shall pass away and everything will be made new—and that includes our bodies, and that includes the Earth. The Bible doesn't teach that heaven is somewhere else. It's not somewhere far off that God beams us to when Jesus comes back. The book of Revelation describes a new heavens and a new earth. There will be a new Jerusalem. There will be a new Alabama! God didn’t think we were beyond saving and he didn’t think that about the earth either. It was very good once; it will be very good again, as our renewed home for us to live in as embodied souls.
Obviously we don't experience it in its fullness right now, but our bodies will be made perfect. They'll be made as they were always meant to exist: in perfect harmony with God and with the world and with each other. Remember, what do we say at the end of the Nicene Creed every Sunday? "We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” And we cross ourselves there because that's our great hope. That's our great hope: resurrection; recreation; perfect relationship.
So that's why it's not only appropriate, but it's good and necessary, to pray for our bodily needs, as well as our spiritual needs and our emotional needs and mental needs. And so the collect continues and ends like this: “that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.” And all of this happens “through Jesus Christ Our Lord, who lives and reigns with you (the Father) and the Holy Spirit; one God, forever and ever. Amen.