Sacraments are the means by which Christian believers enter into the mystery of Christ – the mystery of the Word made flesh present in all earthly things drawing people ever closer to the Christlike God..
The Most Revd Kay Goldsworthy AO, Archbishop of Perth
St Augustine defined a sacrament as ‘a sign of something sacred’. The word itself is derived from the Latin ‘sacramentum’, which refers to a mystery.
Sacraments are the means by which Christian believers enter into the mystery of Christ – the mystery of the Word made flesh present in all earthly things, things that are both blessed and blessing, drawing people ever closer to the Christlike God. ‘If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:1-3). Mystery and more mystery, for we who set our minds on things above attend ever more closely to things below, to people and events here and now, for the hidden God looks us in the eye at every turn.
As the infant church grew, people began to discover more in the rites which were the ‘outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace’.
Sacraments of the church are recognised as given to us by Christ himself, given as meeting places, meetings with Christ and one another, places set apart which open our eyes to the truth that every place and every person is special.
God’s fingerprints are everywhere, if only we have eyes to see and hearts to worship, and the church’s sacraments open blind eyes and soften cold hearts.
Matter matters, as through everyday realities - water, bread, oil - Christ communicates his saving presence with us and for us in order to equip, enable, and empower us to live and act as his followers and friends, his body, hands and feet and voice in today’s world.
Sacramental signs assure us and re-assure us that God has come to us, that God never ceases to come to us, so that we can live out Christ’s love in blessing and comfort and transformation.
These sign languages we have been given triggers our decision to allow God’s love access to our deepest selves, active and acting in us and through us, binding us in sacramental moments of holiness and grace, forgiveness and new life: never isolated, never alone, always God and us, always together.
Most frequently, Christians experience this in and through Eucharist, bread broken so that it can be shared, and a loving cup at which every single celebrant drinks. Deeper and deeper into the mystery, the mystery in which Christ transcends all our differences and divisions, uniting us as one body, his one body here and now. This explains our sense of loss and grief when the precious sign language falters, when the common cup is restricted or must be withdrawn on medical advice.
Week by week we come to God in faith, hope and love, broken, repentant and seeking forgiveness, in conversion, in apprehension, in thanksgiving. As the Latin word ‘sacramentum’ means mystery, the Greek word ‘eucharist’ means ‘thanksgiving’ - thanksgiving that we are wonderfully made and redeemed, thanksgiving for the means of grace and the hope of glory, for the deep waters of death to self and warm waters of new birth.
Eucharist in a great cathedral, or a kitchen table, is one and the same. Christ is the host, and we are all guests, each with a place at the table. To quote Augustine again, ‘Christ is on the table, and around the table’ so that we who are Christ’s Body receive who we are and who we are called to be. There are no strangers here, no one we can do without, no one we can cut off or excommunicate or distance, as in Holy Communion Christ gathers everyone in - his the table, he the host, himself the food we eat. Like the loaves and fish by the lake, here there is enough and more than enough, enough for every hungry guest.