Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sacraments and $20 Bills

It's hard to get the mind around how a sacrament works. Actually, it is impossible to get one's mind fully around the concept. Hence the other name for sacraments -- the mysteries.

Here is a simple, but I think helpful picture. A sacrament is like a $20 bill. The Anglican Articles of Religion say a sacrament is an "effectual sign." Let's break this down. A sacrament is a sign. Catholic Christians will never say a sacrament is not a sign or a symbol. But a sacrmanet is a sign or symbol that communicates or passes on what it signifies. For instance, in Holy Communion we partake of bread and wine. But we also believe the bread and wine communicate or pass on to us the body and blood of Christ. Don't ask me how this works. Like I said -- its a mystery.

If you think about it, a &20 bill is a bit of a mystery as well. A $20 bill is a sign. It's worth in paper and ink is probably less than $1. Yet we all know it carries $20 worth of value or wealth. This is no pretense. It really carries the wealth. In fact, we can talk about the "real presence" of wealth or value in $20 bill.

A $20 bill is a sign or symbol that communicates or passes on what it signifies. How does this work? The Federal Government attaches a promise to this sign. Because of the authority of the government the promise is good. The authoritative guarantee of the government does something mysterious to the sign. It is no longer a piece of paper with ink and images. It IS $20. If this isn't the case, think what you would do if $20 bills started falling from the sky. You would not blithely let them blow away because they are "just symbols." You would grab as many as you could as fast as you could.

This is what a sacrament is like. In the same way a $20 bill is not "just" a symbol, neither is a sacrament. It communicates what it signifies. A $20 bill has a, yes, you guessed, a sacramental nature to it. So you see, sacraments are not wierd religous things. They are part of our daily experience.

A sacrament, of course, is better than a $20 bill. A sacrament has not only a promise attached to it, but it has the Lord's actual presence in and with it. God's promise is that he would come to us in the sacraments. Therefore, the sign communicates the thing signified. Methinks this is tre cool.

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