In her wonderful book Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Warren does an amazing job of explaining what that means when the Bible says the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit:
Each day our bodies are aimed toward a particular end, a telos. The way we use our bodies teaches us what our bodies are for. There are plenty of messages in our culture about this. The proliferation of pornography and sexually driven advertising trains us to understand bodies (ours and other people’s) primarily as a means of conquest or pleasure. We are told that our bodies are meant to be used and abused or, on the other hand, that our bodies are meant to be worshiped.
If the church does not teach us what our bodies are for, our culture certainly will. If we don’t learn to live the Christian life as embodied beings, worshiping God and stewarding the good gift of our bodies, we will learn a false gospel, an alternative liturgy of the body. Instead of temples of the Holy Spirit, we will come to see our bodies primarily as a tool for meeting our needs and desires. Or we might believe that our bodies should be flawless and spend endless amounts of time and money on creams or Botox or surgery to stave off the reality of our frail and aging bodies. Or we may attempt to ignore embodiment altogether, eating and drinking what we will, with no regard for the way our choices violate a call to steward our bodies as gifts.
The scandal of misusing our bodies through, for instance, sexual sin is not that God doesn’t want us to enjoy our bodies or our sexuality. Instead, it is that our bodies— sacred objects intended for worship of the living God— can become a place of sacrilege.
When we use our bodies to rebel against God or to worship the false gods of sex, youth, or personal autonomy, we are not simply breaking an archaic and arbitrary commandment. We are using a sacred object— in fact, the most sacred object on earth— in a way that denigrates its beautiful and high purpose.
Sexual sin is a scandal in the Scriptures not because the apostles were blushing prigs— they were, in reality, a rather salty bunch— or because the body is dirty or evil, but because our skin and muscles and feet and hands are more sacred than any communion chalice or baptismal font. Ignoring Scripture’s teaching about the proper use of the body and using our bodies for our own false worship is a misuse of the sacred akin to using consecrated bread and wine in a Wiccan goddess ceremony.
Similarly, when we denigrate our bodies— whether through neglect or staring at our faces and counting up our flaws— we are belittling a sacred site, a worship space more wondrous than the most glorious, ancient cathedral. We are standing before the Grand Canyon or the Sistine Chapel and rolling our eyes.
But when we use our bodies for their intended purpose— in gathered worship, raising our hands or singing or kneeling, or, in our average day, sleeping or savoring a meal or jumping or hiking or running or having sex with our spouse or kneeling in prayer or nursing a baby or digging a garden— it is glorious, as glorious as a great cathedral being used just as its architect had dreamt it would be.
In my tradition, when a chalice is broken or an altar cloth is torn, we don’t throw it in the trash; it must be buried or burned. Leftover consecrated wine is either drunk or poured into the ground, never down the drain. We do this because these objects are sacred, set apart, and worthy of care. In the same way, care for the body— even these small, daily tasks of maintenance— is a way we honor our bodies as sacred parts of worship.