Lesson 2: Sacrament as God’s Bodily Presence

Sacrament of BaptismThe sacraments remind us that Christians claim that God is more than spirit. Although most of us can remember having defined God as a spirit at various times, the Church has insisted God is a person. And we all know a person is body as well as spirit. I can appreciate what our theologians are trying to say, because I have no idea what a disembodied spirit would be.

For instance, last week I spoke of God relating to us primarily as word and illustrated it with hearing a voice in a dark room. The voice, God’s Word, indicates his presence among us even when this is not apparent. However, I should enhance that illustration by emphasizing the voice presumes a bodily presence is in the room. Some person is speaking.

The Church tries to express the necessity of this embodiment when she confesses the resurrection of the body and defines the Church as the body of Christ. It is also what the Church means when she speaks of God’s real presence in the sacraments. God appears among us in bodily form.

I was taught in my catechism that the sacraments include an earthly element in the water, bread, and wine. That is a pretty feeble way to speak of God’s bodily presence. However, it does make clear that sacraments are means of grace by which God can make himself fully available to us. We are dealing with an objectivity we cannot change according to our own desires. We are not presented with an abstract timeless word but a person appearing here and now.

That means there is always some discomfort involved when we participate in a sacrament. Real persons bring promise into our lives, but they also make demands on us. We can celebrate God’s love when God shares himself in the sacraments, but we are also challenged to love according to his will. And we often fail to do that.

This all might seem a silly academic exercise. We know how we feel when we participate in the sacraments. However, we do well to be aware they are not about my receiving a magical material element. Sacraments are community activities in which real people share themselves and those persons include God himself.

We can realize how important this is when we consider how silly it would be to try to practice baptism or communion electronically. There is no way we can enjoy the completeness of community online or on television. We can watch other persons share themselves but we cannot participate bodily. We can observe God’s sharing himself with his people, but we cannot enjoy that real presence ourselves. There is no way to wash our bodies electronically. There is no way to share food online.

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