Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
I am a student of medieval and reformation Europe. Throughout this period there is a recurrent theme that happens within the stories which surround many saints. When they die it smells good, often either like baked bread or flowers. It was said that when Theresa of Avila died the whole nunnery smelled like flowers. Verse three tells us that the saints in the land are the excellent ones in whom the psalmist delights. Later in the psalm, in verse 10, it says that the Lord will not let his holy one (saint) see corruption.
We often take that to mean that Jesus rose before his body was ruined by decay. This is true. But the medieval Christians held that this verse also spoke of us, or at least some of us. The saints were a special manifestation of God’s grace in this life. The medieval people knew well what the stench of death smelled like. There was no funeral home industry; death was an ever-present reality for them. They marveled when the stench was replaced by something pleasant.
Ever since Descartes, the French philosopher who said, “I think, therefore I am,” we have downplayed the value and role of our bodies. For many the body is simply a biological machine in which our minds are temporarily housed. Some even imagine that they could “download” or “upload” themselves into a computer and live forever that way, free of an aging and dying body. But Jesus rose in the body, a body whom Mary Magdalene could hang onto that first Easter day, a body whose wounds Thomas could touch, a man who ate and drank with His disciples after the resurrection. His body rose from the grave, not just some spirit or incorporeal self. He was fully human and being human includes a body.
Your body, for all its failings and weaknesses, and eventually despite its death, is precious to God. In His presence there is fullness of joy. At His right hand there are pleasures forevermore, pleasures which we will enjoy with bodies restored by Christ’s resurrection.