“S” is for Symbol – or Sacrament (March 19, 2012)

…Opening To…

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation. Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee, think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not my deserving. (Johann Heermann, from The Hymnal 1982)

…Listening In…

After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:19-20; context)

…Filling Up…

This Lent, we are exploring our faith by running through the alphabet. Today, “S” is for symbol. We have a lot of symbols in church: the cross, the dove, the living water, the commandments, (fill in the blank here _________ ).

But before we go any further, I want to dispel from your mind any notion of the phrases “it’s only a symbol” or  “it’s merely symbolic.” Symbols are woefully misunderstood things in American culture – like soccer and irony. A symbol is an object that points beyond itself to a deeper truth. Too often, “sign” and “symbol” are used interchangeably, but they are not synonymous. A stop sign lets you know you are supposed to brake at an intersection, but that’s all it tells you. The red octagon doesn’t compel you to ruminate on why you should stop. But a symbol – the cross, for instance – stirs within us all of the historical and theological and emotional resonances of the truth to which it points.

In church, we have a special sort of symbol called a “sacrament.” Take communion for instance. The bread we use is laughably ordinary, but the situation we put it in is not. The juxtaposition between the normal loaf of bread and the strange way it is being treated invest the ordinary with new meaning. The bread connotes the bounty of harvest, the fruits of the earth, the goodness of creation, the nourishment of our bodies. And when we put it on that table, and a priest (in the presence of God’s people) asks God to indwell that bread with the Spirit of Christ, the bread becomes a sacrament. The bread becomes one part of the Eucharistic meal, an outward and visible connection to our inward spiritual lives. Special sacramental symbols take ordinary things – bread, water, even our own actions and personhoods – and set them ablaze with physical and emotive evidence of the presence of God.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you give us sacraments to help us see you in this world. Help me to by a symbol for your love, mercy, and grace to all I meet. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, counting myself blessed that you would choose to make me the person I am and love me into the person I am becoming.

One thought on ““S” is for Symbol – or Sacrament (March 19, 2012)

  1. Oh, yes – symbols are surely powerful and important, a kind of shorthand for layers of deep meaning. But unless one is taught – somehow – what those meanings are, the symbol cannot convey those deeper ,meanings, it seems. Thank you for your thoughts.

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