Posted on: April 13th, 2011 Questioning our Worship (VII): Why Sacraments?

This article is part 7 of a 10-part series.

In his magisterial For the Life of the World, Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann begins his articulation of the sacramental life with the statement, “Man is what he eats.”

Think about it. Even our narrative of God’s work in the world begins with a story about eating. The man and the woman in garden (imagined collectively in Genesis 1 as “Adam”) are somehow restless, somehow wanting more than they have received. And so what do they do? They eat. They grasp after some thing God had made, and they put it in their mouths, chew it, swallow it, and assimilate it into their very bodies, their very selves.

Fast forward to the end of our story, the last two or three chapters of St. John’s Apocalypse. Here again, what do we see? We see an amazing scene of a feast. In fact it is the very best kind of feast: a wedding feast! What better reason to celebrate than the joining of a man and a woman in the deepest possible love, the deepest possible union.

So we see, in the beginning and end of our story (not to mention all along the way in between: see Isaiah 25:6 as one of countless examples), that the idolatrous, gluttonous eating of Adam has been transfigured into the faithful, joyful, satisfying celebration of the New Adam, together with his Body and Bride.

In light of all of this, can it be any surprise that at the center of our lives lived before God, we find ourselves eating at a table with our brothers and sisters? More is going on at that weekly feast called Holy Communion than time or space permits me to develop right now, but suffice to say that, since God’s salvation (think “shalom”) is for our whole selves, body and soul, it is only fitting that he put his abundant, indestructible life into us not only through words and ideas, but also through food. Or, better (as Peter Leithart has written in his Blessed are the Hungry), through “love made food.”

And when it comes to Holy Baptism, we find a similar reality. God made us not only as individuals, but as members of community. As I told the youth confirmands recently, we are like a jigsaw puzzle, designed to “fit together” and to make a beautiful mosaic which is bigger than any one of us. In light of that, of course it makes sense that God would give us a ritual which includes us in God’s love not just as individuals, but as a larger community, called to “image” God’s own communal life, his loving dance, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Share Button

Leave a Reply