The diploma on my wall declares I am “qualified for and admitted to the Sacred Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments in the Christian Reformed Church.” Although the language on my diploma gives them equal weight, I probably think of myself as a minister of the Word more than as a minister of the sacraments. (Look! I even capitalize Word but not sacraments!) Other people will call me a preacher before they’ll call me – what? – a sacrament officiant.
I appreciate that without the Word – both the Word written and the Word made flesh – there would be no sacraments. And I understand that, echoing Belgic Confession article 2, God makes Himself known to us most clearly by His holy and divine Word, more clearly than any physical things of the world – even water, bread, and juice, I suppose.
But having reflected on the sacraments over the past several blog entries, I don’t think it would hurt me to remember more often the “sacraments” part of the line on my diploma. The Belgic Confession goes on to teach in article 33:
God has added [the sacraments] to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what God enables us to understand by the Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us.
For they are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
God gives us five senses, and He uses all five to communicate the mystery of His love with us. Preaching is connected mostly with the sense of hearing. The sacraments allow God to “speak” to us through more senses: We see and hear the water poured into the baptismal font and feel it on our heads; we see, touch, smell, and taste the bread and juice. Teachers know that students may remember things better if they are engaging more senses while learning the material – even the sense of smell, believe it or not. Through the sacraments, God engages all our senses to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” something He wants and helps us always to remember.
I wouldn’t be able to fully do my job if I was limited to only engaging peoples’ sense of hearing (i.e. preaching). People would be missing out on something if speaking was the only tool of my trade. As CRC pastor Leonard Vander Zee writes,
We need more than words. To echo the pop star Madonna, we are material beings in a material world. Graciously God stoops to us, as to children, communicating his grace and salvation through the material stuff of bread and wine.
God uses everything He can to help us receive and perceive the Gospel. Some of the things God uses may include a beautiful rainbow (as God did with Noah), dreams (think of Joseph – both the Old Testament Joseph and the New Testament Joseph), even a painful thorn in the flesh (something with which Paul struggled). I’m most grateful for how God graciously speaks to us through the Bible and, especially these days, how He communicates grace to us by means of water, bread, and juice (to echo “Our World Belongs to God,” ¶37). When it comes to experiencing God’s grace, I’ll take all the ways God uses that I can get!
Recent posts about Baptism:
Recent posts about the Lord’s Supper:
“Invited” (part 1)
“Invited” (part 2)
Word and Sacraments graphic
from Trinity Lutheran Church, Copperas Cove TX