This may be appear a bit weird but then I suppose that could be said about a number of my blog posts. I hope readers will bear with me and, unless I am deluding myself, what I am about to say, based on observation, may prove helpful. While meant for anyone, I should warn readers, it is going to be religious based. The timing of this post is not insignificant, for today is Valentine’s day, when lovers exchange signs of the love they have for one another.
Firstly some definitions: sacrament equates to a visible sign of an inward grace, typically seen in the sacraments of the church, like Holy Communion (or the Lord’s Supper), and love (of the agape variety) is to do with selflessness, sacrifice and it is unconditional. The sacraments are viewed quite differently among many Christians and, along with most Protestants, those I recognize are Baptism and Communion, although I can see the case for the five extra Catholics recognise: reconciliation, confirmation, marriage, ordination and anointing the sick. While I see Communion as more than just an act of remembrance, I see it as less than what most Catholics believe, in terms of the bread and wine actually becoming Christ’s body and blood. Yet I still see it as something profoundly significant and important and in one sense is transformational and life imparting. In similar vein I regard Baptism, not like some who ascribe to the act some neo-magical power but rather as a visible sign of a change in direction: death, burial and resurrection, in following Christ.
Communion is in one sense the supreme sign of God’s love insofar it is derived from the Last Supper, the Passover meal Jesus had with his disciples a little prior to giving up his body and shedding his blood when he died on a cross in order to bear our sins. But there are many other signs we as His disciples can present besides participation in the Communion and the older I get and the more I observe what works and what doesn’t, the more I realize how important this is. I can well recall being told in my early days as a community activist, by a Baptist minister, how important showing sacramental love was when dealing with those with mental health issues, and many years on I have come to see its importance when dealing with the many vulnerable and marginalized folk that are a significant part, even if often ignored, of the communities we live in.
By temperament, I am not a touchy, feely sort of person, and discretion and wisdom is always needed, especially (in my case) with pretty girls, but I can quite see how a simple touch can make a difference. It is not so long ago that showing the sign of peace, even by a simple handshake, was introduced into Anglican and other denominations services. It could be a mere ritual or something that gives rise to the cringe factor, but when offered and taken in the right spirit it could have a powerful and dare I say it healing effect. Last night, I saw a glimpse of what a chaste hug can achieve when one of our guests at the soup kitchen I help to run began to kick off, being upset about something or other, but the result was a calming effect, maybe as a result of feeling loved and valued. Besides providing practical help e.g. food, kindly looking our guests in the face, shaking their hands (or providing hugs), and giving out the vibes that whatever their state or situation they matter, to God and us, is a valuable service than cannot be under-estimated.
Hugs and handshakes are just one of many examples of something tangible we can do to make someone feel he/she matters or to communicate some important truth. Being from (the lowest of the low) low church background, I sometimes envy the Catholics where signs abound (at least in church buildings and services) reminding the congregation of some of the great truths of Christian faith and helping to connect people with that faith. I know the reason, my early mentors felt much of this was superstitious mumbo jumbo and what really mattered was dwelling on the scriptures as contained in the Bible. I have since come to see there is a time and place for all these things and what matters is balance. The regular act of taking the bread and wine may well be repetitious, but like all signs it serves a valuable purpose. It seems to me also there is plenty of scope to give vent to those God given creative juices by introducing signs of the divine into the activities of the church, in order to help reinforce those great and eternal truths. It occurs to me that me and those like me, by not being much into celebrating anniversaries and special days, may miss out.
I have long reflected on the nature of the Christian gospel and what I have written on my website about the gospel remains my most important posting. I have long resisted the message that the only thing that matters is love when what is just as important is righteousness (something God is and what we need to aim for and be). But love is all too important and people need to know there is God who truly loves each and everyone of us. We can each play our part spreading that love by what we do, including showing sacramental signs along with our acts of kindness. To cite the Beatles song: “All you need is love, love. Love is all you need”.