A Reflection from Father Jennings: Sacraments and Signs of God
The Dream of God: “He Pitched His Tent Among Us”
Our faith tradition as Christians holds that God has a dream. The Gospel of John expresses this dream in its prologue. It proclaims the Incarnation: “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1:14) At least one translation of this has appeared as “The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” What a great image – God’s lives with us.
Our faith tells us that God may well be beyond us, but at the same time there is a closeness of our God which is touches all of creation. One of the ways in which we speak of this closeness of God is by way of the idea of sacrament. It is basic to the Christian understanding of our relationship with God. The idea and the word capture what we mean by God living among. Sacrament offers God’s way of reaching out in the life of creation, all of creation.
In particular, sacrament allows us to see that God is experienced in the “stuff” of our human lives. In fact, we human beings most often experience God in our created experience. Think of a time when you sensed the presence of God. It was probably a moment when some place, or some experience so moved you that you became aware that there was something beyond, some divine presence that you were encountering. What happened was that you were sensing God in the midst of human experience and created reality. It is with wonder that we recognize God in our human, created experiences. Indeed, God does pitch his tent among us.
In Christian Tradition, there are three principal expressions of this experience of God among us. We use the idea of sacrament to speak of these expressions of God`s presence. The fundamental sacrament or expression of God`s presence is the person of Jesus. In the Incarnation, Jesus becomes the tangible and visible presence of God with us. In Jesus, God takes on our humanity. He reveals the loving and liberating God and shows forth God’s dream in his message and mission.
This Jesus who is the first and fundamental sacrament of God, shared this role with his friends and disciples. In the Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, his disciples were drawn into this role of sacrament. The followers of Jesus become members of the Body of Christ, called to be, themselves the embodiment of the presence of God. In short, the church, the followers of Jesus, is the second level of sacrament, in our Christian Tradition. We embody the presence of God, when we like Jesus, live the love and freedom to which we are called as images of God. When we live as that community of disciples, with a love that is life-giving to all, then we are the sacrament we are called to be as church.
The sacraments which this community of disciples share are the third level of sacrament in our Tradition. They are, and must always be, an expression of a community of disciples who live for God and others. Sacraments as we celebrate them with the ordinary elements of creation and life (water, bread, oil, wine) are to be further expressions of the presence of God active among us. In this they reveal to our world, our whole world, the dream of God to share love among us.
In sign and sacrament, God does indeed “pitch his tent among us”. On this Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord may we be a sacramental people manifesting God’s loving presence in our world.