Four Sacraments and an Office

Baptism is one of only a couple of sacraments we won't be doing this weekend.

Baptism is one of only a couple of sacraments we won't be doing this weekend.

As a lot of you already know, it's going to be a busy weekend around St. Michael's. The title of this post refers to the four sacraments of the Church that we'll be celebrating on Sunday - Eucharist, Confirmation, Unction, and Matrimony. As far as i know, the Bishop does not intend to ordain anyone here on Sunday (although one really never knows with bishops...), neither will we be offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation (but someone might come up between now and then and ask for it. We're also not planning on baptizing anyone, either, but we will all be renewing our Baptismal Vows as part of Confirmation. There have been several times like this in the twenty-something years i've been ordained, where i've found myself counting up all the Sacraments we'd be having in the next day or so. It can be a little overwhelming trying to make sure that we know (literally) what page we're on and making sure we are devoting our full attention and presence to whichever one we happen to be doing at the moment.

Still, I always enjoy these times. The Sacraments are kind of like love songs that God sings to us, rhythmic reminders of God's eternal love and ongoing care for us. While the longstanding definition we use for sacrament - an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual Grace - is fine in some ways, I sometimes find it incomplete and lacking. The sacraments are physical and tangible ways in which God touches us directly; the elements of them are real and earthy - water, wine, bread, oil, hands. They are all means of healing, strengthening, reconnecting, and restoring. In many ways, the Sacraments show us God's third way of working and speaking in the world. In the Old Testament, God fed, healed, restored, strengthened from a distance, usually speaking through someone like Moses or the prophets; in the New Testament, God did all of those directly through Jesus, literally God incarnate among us, to do in the flesh what had previously been done in other ways. Now, since the Ascension of Jesus and the birth of the Church, God is still at work, performing those same tasks as always, but now we receive and experience them through the mysterious and tangible means of Sacrament. 

The weekend at St. Michael's starts not with Sacraments, though, but with an office - the Burial Office for Harry Steinhauser. Here the word office takes its old meaning - not of a room in which work is done but of a duty with which one is entrusted. This is much the same way we speak of the Office of President - that means much more than the actual Oval Office, as it describes the trust and work we place in the hands of the person who holds that office. Burials are not sacraments, although we often think they are. Sacraments are only for those of us still living on this side of the Resurrection. We are the ones who need them to mediate God's Grace to us; once we die, and the veil between us and God is sloughed off, we have no need of anything to reveal God's presence to us. We dwell in it face to face. Funerals aren't for the dead; they are for those of us still in our earthly pilgrimage.

While our "work" as the Church is vital and life-giving - work such as the I AM Food Pantry, the opening of our doors to our community, the pastoral visits, the meetings, and all the other day to day business of church life - I am enormously thankful for times like these when we draw our attention back to the sacramental life of the Church and are given the chance to see, hear, and feel God at work in our lives.