Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sacrament: You keep using that word

It's been my experience that Christians who object to the idea of a sacrament have never heard it defined by someone who embraces the idea. I've heard suspicion of idolatry. And (especially in connection with sacraments of forgiveness), I've heard suspicion of another means of salvation. But I haven't heard a view that would be recognized by the people who hold it.

Consider Father Stephen's recent piece, The One Mediator and the Sacraments
The great flaw in anti-sacramental thinking is its abstracted notion of “spiritual.” It is presumed that for something to be “spiritual,” it must have nothing to do with the material world. That “talking to Jesus” only consists in words spoken in our heads. ... The Word did not become flesh only to get our attention so that we would no longer have anything to do with the material world. It is the Word who became flesh ...
Father Stephen there conveys the heart of the sacramental view of God's interaction with the world: the world itself has spiritual value, and earthly things have spiritual weight. (That's part of the point of morality, while we're on a nearby subject. The most profoundly "moral" leave their light shining as saints, where we can recognize the beauty and holiness in the earthly lives.) "The heavens declare the glory of God" may be poetic, but many Christians -- especially those with a sacramental view -- find it to be factually true. There is a kind of beauty which communicates holiness. We see God's presence in earthly things: not in a "dispersed disembodied God" kind of way, but in an intentional, communicative way.

One of the chief of these ways that God is present for us tangibly is through baptism, where God promises a cleansing, forgiving, renewing grace. God gives the down-to-earth sign of water to down-to-earth creatures such as ourselves. Even those who have never studied formal theology can understand God's promise to us through the use of water, with all the experience we have of cleansing and purifying through water. Again, with the Lord's Supper he seals a covenant of forgiveness of our sins. "Christ the victim, Christ the priest" blesses the earthly bread and wine -- not in some magical way, or some way that leaves us magical bread, but in a way that we can grasp we are welcome at God's table now, and our souls are fed on Christ. The bread and wine are all about Christ's body and blood; it is not at all a different salvation that we grasp as "his body, given for you; his blood, shed for you." It is the same salvation that we have always preached, the same message embodied in a way that does what the gospel always does: humbles us, forgives us, unites us with God and each other, strengthens us and feeds us.

There are enough misunderstandings out there; I'm not naive enough to think that if I simply explain what I mean, then the misunderstandings will clear away. Still, it's even less likely for someone to understand if I've never said what I mean.


Martin LaBar said...

"'The heavens declare the glory of God'may be poetic, but many Christians -- especially those with a sacramental view -- find it to be factually true."

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Martin

Thank you, as always, for the encouragement.
Take care & God bless
Anne / WF