Lessons on spirituality from the sacraments (part two)
More from chapter six in Gerald Sittser’s Water from a Deep Well. Sittser is writing about the Sacraments of the Middle Ages.
What is the purpose of the sacraments?
The sacraments are a source of genuine spiritual life and an objective means of grace. The tangible, concrete, material nature of the sacraments reminds us of the reality of Christ’s saving work. The sacraments join material and spiritual together into a seamless whole, just as the incarnation does. They are windows that allow us to gaze into another world and receive the grace that pours from that world into ours. 144
How the sacraments reflect the gospel
The incarnation alters the way Christians should view the spiritual purpose of the material. . . In Christ God and humanity come together in a seamless whole. God takes on materiality, the material is united with the divine; God becomes a man, a man embodies God; God embraces humanity, humanity surrenders to God. 147
The sacraments are symbols of the ongoing presence of the material Christ who lived, suffered and died for our sake. 160
Mystery of the sacraments
How God uses the sacraments as a means of grace remains a mystery. That God commands us to receive them and offers us grace through them is God’s promise. We live in the tension between the mystery and the promise. 147
The sacraments teach us that grace comes to us as an objective reality. . . The Bible does not tell us how the sacraments actually communicate grace, only that they do. It is all a mystery. 160
How the sacraments help us understand the church
When the church is functioning at its best, it communicates the grace and love and power of God so completely that the faithful are enabled to live for God wherever they are, and thus to claim the “secular” world—theaters, bowling alleys, schools, businesses, neighborhoods for God’s Kingdom purposes. At its worst, it does the opposite; the secular world encroaches on the church until it finally takes over. 159
In the Christian faith the spiritual and material are mysteriously, perfectly and ultimately united in Christ, in the sacraments, and in God’s plan of redemption.
Speaking about taking communion in his church, Sittser writes, “We have nothing to say but a word of thanks, nothing to claim but mercy, nothing to pay for the grace that is lavished on us.” 161
Sacraments have the power to transform us into living sacraments to the world.