After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:19-20
“Just remember that if we didn’t matter to God, Satan wouldn’t bother either…” – Rebekah Maul, Ash Wednesday message.
As I age – and I use that term carefully because we all age, even the very young – I have noticed how symbolism has become more important to me. Not only in matters of faith but in other areas too.
I have written about this extensively in my books on Advent and Lent (In My Heart I Carry A Star and Reaching Toward Easter), especially in the context of what I call the Sacred Rhythms of the Christian year, the ecclesiastical calendar.
It is the consistent association of particular things with cumulative experience that attaches meaning, I believe. And, like the sacred rhythms of practicing faith, symbols are another example of “familiar paths that lead to familiar places.” We become attached to them not because they possess any “magic” but because they remind us of signal truths and serve to activate or trigger the application of those truths to our current experience.
Symbols are sacramental:
Symbols are more than mnemonic devices they are (can be) sacramental. In the Presbyterian tradition only Baptism and Communion are classified as sacraments, but many of the symbols we see around us in church work to similar effect.
This is one of the reasons – I believe – that the Ash Wednesday worship service has become increasingly powerful in my journey as a disciple. It is not that the symbols have changed but that years and years of spiritual practice have imbued them with personal meaning. They are both a means of grace and a repository of grace.
Rebekah spoke about this during Ash Wednesday worship services.
We had a smaller gathering in the morning, followed by lunch, then a large crowd after our regular church supper in the evening. She simply pointed out the cross, the font, the table, and the Bible. I looked around the sanctuary and realized that the hymn books too, the stained-glass, the candles, the vestments, the pulpit, the banners – all the physical elements of the worship space – have become so associated with God’s grace that they help facilitate my experience.
Today is just the second day of Lent. I plan to keep myself in close proximity to all these things that have helped me to know God. And, more importantly, I plan to immerse myself in the Body of Christ, the church, where I meet Jesus every day in and through the beautiful witness of regular people to Light, to Grace, to Invitation, and to Promise.
In love, and because of love – DEREK