Tag Archives: Sacraments
It can be hard to do this. A lot of people want to be the hero of the story. Or at least we want to be the protagonist, the main actor. In our work, in our homes, maybe even in our little piece of history. We are tempted to tell stories with ourselves at the center. It’s hard to step aside.
We grow accustomed to each other in a peculiar way, beyond excellence or inadequacy or anything else. God brought us together in the exemplary and characteristic way God acts in the world–through the ministry of the Church–and that forges a unique bond. Rupturing it, and forming it anew with new people, is a much weightier task than I’d been able to imagine when the bishop laid his hands on me and I knew only the pure and shiny farewells of the perennial student.
When we’re in an audience, we want to be led on, tricked, deceived by sleight of hand. In the real world, face to face, we don’t want that at all. We don’t want to be led on, tricked, manipulated. Instead we want to give ourselves freely to one another, and we want to receive the free gift of another person in return.
When the great theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote about the sacraments, he wrote about them as the way God gives us grace. “Now the gift of grace,” he wrote, “surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking in the divine nature.” This is a professional way of saying that grace is the gift we can’t get for ourselves because it is beyond our capability. It is the way we embrace the very nature of God. It is the way that the invisible, eternal Father comes to live inside of us, like a radioactive tracer that outlives our own flesh.
And it’s funny—it seems that no one can think about these words for more than a few minutes without turning them into a problem that has to be solved. What did Jesus mean? Was he referring to the meal his disciples shared, the sacrament of bread and wine? Or was he talking about eating and drinking as a metaphor for believing in him?
So Jesus lets you say no—to him and to each other. He invites his disciples to leave. He does this without blame or resentment. He doesn’t call out after the people who are leaving, “You’ll be sorry!” And if the twelve had walked away discouraged, he would have found new disciples. He would have raised up a body for himself in the world somehow. He will find a way to share his eternal life with this hungry, bleeding, sinful world. Someone, somehow, will answer.
In other words, there’s a reversal: the character who looks like he’s on top of the world is really not, not in the ways that matter, anyway. And the character who looks like she’s on the bottom, on the outside, is really at the top in the ways that matter.
Now it may or may not surprise you to know that this reversal is a very Christian thing. It’s something that happens over and over again in the Bible and the history of the church. It happens a lot especially in the Gospel of Luke and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles.
So how does Jesus answer Thomas’s doubt? He appears also to Thomas, and he invites the very violation that Thomas says he demands. And I like to imagine that he does it just as Professor Most suggests: gently, sadly, lovingly; seeking not simply to be Thomas’s Lord and God, but his protector and friend. Jesus had his hands and side pierced by his enemies, and now he invites a disciple to do the same thing. He has suffered to redeem the whole human race, and yet he is willing to suffer again in order to bring his friend to faith.
At the beginning of Lent, I invited the participants in our new member/baptism preparation groups to ask any question they had about church or faith, and I would try to answer them as best I could over the course of our meetings. I didn’t get to all of them in the six weeks we spend together, but a commitment is a commitment and I emailed the answers to everyone. It made for the kind of long, burdensome email I almost never write anymore. But they were big, important questions that, I realized, I often spend very little time answering.
When you write compulsively, people will tell you by way of encouragement or indulgence that you should write a book. The logic of it may not be quite clear, but it can be very persuasive all the same. I heard this and said it to myself over the years, lacking only a firm grasp on […]