During this Lenten Observance season I will be spending some extra time sharing my thoughts on the sacraments in a weekly series, “God kneeling in the mud.” I know that my readers come from a variety of faith backgrounds with different understandings of the sacraments, please know, I’m not trying to convince anyone, but simply sharing my pastoral practice and scriptural knowledge on this aspect of our faith walk that has been in one way or the other universally shared between all Christians for over 2,000 years.
“You know Pastor, you’ll never understand the Eucharist until you kneel in the mud.”
These were the words spoken by a soldier to his Lutheran Chaplain, as the chaplain shared the Lord’s Supper with the soldiers under his care in the mud. These words describe not only the Lord’s Supper, but all of the sacraments including Baptism and Holy Absolution in a simple and profound way that theologians over the centuries have spent volumes trying to pen.
During this Lenten season we will spend our meditation time together studying in-depth what the Scriptural and Lutheran understanding of what a sacrament is and what they mean for our Christian life both individually and celebrated together as a church family. During the next few weeks we will meditate upon and study Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, but first we need to talk about what a Sacrament is and fittingly the place we must start is with Jesus.
We start with Jesus because every sacrament that we receive within the Christian church has been earned through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus upon the cross and delivered to us through the Word and Promise of God through the visible means of faith.
Jesus is at the heart and center of every sacrament and what can be said of Jesus in much the same way can be said of the Sacraments that He gives to us through HIs Word and Promise. So what we understand about who God is and how he has come to us will also inform how we understand the sacraments we receive in faith.
The first way that we can understand or misunderstand God is as a God who is far off and distant from creation. This kind of God may have set the ball running on creation but then left and does not intervene within or work in creation. The material world is bad the spiritual world is good. So the only goal of this understanding and worldview is to escape this bad material world and be reunited with the good spirit in the sky.
Can you talk to this God? Can you find hope in this understanding of a God who is far off and distant from you? Are you ever sure this God knows your name, knows your need or cares about your life and who you are? No, you can’t.
The second way is to understand or misunderstand God as a God that is pure, true and eternally good but because of this nature cannot and will not have anything to do with the bad material creation that is sinful and broken. Instead of interacting and working within creation because this is incompatible with who God is, then the two must remain separate, or creation must be consumed and completely obliterated, changed into something else completely.
Can you find hope in this God? What do you think this understanding of who you are as incompatible with who God is and that you must remain separate or changed completely to have a relationship with God say about who you are?
Think of them as two extremes of the same misunderstanding of God. Both simply state that this material creation is bad and without redemption. On the one end God must come to us from afar spiritually and take us out of this bad material world to the good spiritual realm or on the other the two must remain separate, or the spiritual must obliterate the material.
Do any of these understanding really sound like the God who loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to be with us?
Both of these misunderstandings play out then in how people understand Jesus. On the one end either Jesus was simply a good teacher who brought enlightenment to people and brought them a way to escape the bad world to the good spiritual realities. On the other end the Eternal Spirit of Christ possessed a man named Jesus, because the 2 material and spiritual must remain separate and left him before he died. (This was an actual heresy in the Christian church called Apollinarianism, or tongue in cheek known as space suit heresy)
Now please read with me our Christian confession of who Jesus is from the Nicene Creed.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only‐begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried.
This is our God being a part of His good creation, participating within it and redeeming it. Not a God who is far off nor a God who must remain separate from us but our God who is with us. In Jesus God is in, with and under His creation. That is in Jesus we see the two natures: God’s divine nature and the material creation joined together:
In- a unity of the two natures joined together
With– in fellowship and participation with each other
Under– the Divine nature is hidden under the material nature.
The word that is used to describe this is sacramental, a Sacred Mystery. The sacred mystery of the unity of both the divine nature and the material creation in the one person Jesus Christ.
Or… God kneeling in the mud.
Not a God who is far off or a God who is completely separate from us, but God with us, kneeling in the mud of our world, our life, our hurt, our pain, our joy, our hope. God in the midst of us, with us, experiencing what we experience, loving us just where we are and transforming us to be more of who God made us to be. God with you, kneeling in the mud.
This is true of how God has come to us in Jesus Christ and because Jesus is the heart and center of every sacrament then it also shows us how Jesus comes to us through His Word and Promise in the visible means that deliver God’s grace to us and kindle faith in our lives.
Every sacrament has a physical element that has the promise and command of God attached to it.
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism is the water with the promise and command of God brought together that in this, faith is kindled, forgiveness is given and the person is adopted into the family of Christ.
God kneeling in the mud with us to wash us and make us clean.
The Sacrament of Holy Absolution is the person speaking the words of forgiveness in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ to the repentant sinner, giving to them once again the assurance of forgiveness in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
God kneeling in the mud to heal us and give us hope.
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is the bread and the wine consecrated by the words and promises of Jesus that this is His Body and His Blood, not separate, not far off, but just as He came to us in the flesh so also He comes to us now in communion.
God kneeling in the mud to be with us and strengthen us for the road ahead.
God kneeling in the mud to be with us and to give us forgiveness, new life and hope is the promise of each of the sacraments because each are centered in and through who Jesus is and how He came to be with us.
Next week we will talk about God kneeling in the mud in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism as He brings us into His family.