Christian life and the sacraments

May 5, 2014

A former vice-presidential candidate is in some trouble because of a comment that many have taken to be disrespectful of sacraments. Some have called the statement blasphemy, but that seems unlikely. It was in poor taste and disrespectful, both of which fall well inside the American understanding of permissible free speech. I am not worked up against the offending party and you can scroll immediately down to find out why. This is about a religious idea and not part of the wide world of vicious political attacks.

Those of us who attend churches with a “high” sacramental comprehension find that this outlook leaks into every aspect of our world. There is no need to call the plumber. It is a good thing. Many believers cringe at the word, apparently fearful that admitting to such things as sacraments might turn them into Roman Catholics. It is not a biblical word, but has to do with “mystery.” It is a “sure and certain” sign that God shows his favor toward believers. This gets pretty deep. Roman Catholics and some protestants (Anglicans and Lutherans, for example) do not quite agree on the finer points. God uses his stuff (bread and wine, or water) as symbols to show the good things he does.

This is foundational in worship that celebrates the Light of the World with candles, rising prayer with incense, and strengthening with oil. In Baptism, the believer is buried with Christ and rises with him. The old man is put to death and the new person rises from a watery symbolic grave. It’s in the Bible (Rm 6). In Communion, Christians are fed with the “bread of life.” We become one with Christ and he dwells in us.

The sacramental idea is that we live in a good world in the care of a good God. This is not a naive viewpoint. Sacramental Christians watch the 10 o’clock news and we know that things are a mess. God took on our human form to bring peace with man. Jesus lived in a real human body, had real friends and enemies, ate regular food, experienced pain, died a human death and ascended bodily into heaven. He is coming back to reign over this earth and his people are coming with him. That is the Christian hope.

In the meantime, the Church’s job is to preach the word of God and rightly administer the sacraments. This is a demonstration of God’s work in the world today. God deals with his people in his church and we do his work in the world by living out the gospel. Sacraments remind us of God’s generosity, so it is a little unnerving to hear them misused.

 

 

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