Day 19: Salvation and the Sacraments
Illustration: Juliana Crownover
Thus far, we have seen the importance of a relationship with God and how sin affects that relationship. As Isaiah puts it, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God and your sins have caused Him to hide His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isa 59.2). Since we were designed to be in relationship with God, this separation is intolerable. What can be done?
This side of resurrection, we will probably never fully conquer sin in our lives. This is the sad reality of the human condition. But this does not mean that God has left us without hope. There is a remedy for sin and that remedy is called salvation. God, in Christ, offers salvation to everyone. He offers redemption – the act of setting us free from the power of sin, evil and death — to those who would humble themselves and follow after Him as disciples.[i]
Like most things in the Christian life, however, salvation is a great mystery. There are many things we can say about salvation, since they have been revealed to us in the Scriptures, but ultimately God’s ways are inscrutable (Rom 11.33). If God’s will is for all human beings to be saved (1 Tim 2.4), then how come all aren’t saved? How is hell, the final rejection of God, even possible in light of God’s prevenient grace? Even though Christians have designed many elaborate theological systems to answer these questions, all human answers ultimately fall short. Salvation is a great mystery that no one can adequately answer.
Yet we respond to the great mystery of salvation by realizing that metaphors invoking salvation are more powerful than grandiose speeches expounding on salvation. For example, in the Christian Sacraments, we are reconciled to God through grace and brought to union with him. Thus the Sacraments, the key mysteries of the Church, are essential for our salvation.
We see this every week as we approach the altar for the Eucharist. There is a rail around the altar. It demarcates the space between the altar and the congregation or, better said, between the chancel and the nave. As we will observe in one of our readings this week, the people could not (and did not want to) come near the presence of God. He was holy and they were not. They couldn’t bear to be in His presence.
However, in the Eucharist, this separation between God and humankind is done away with, at least for a time. Whenever we eat the body of Christ, the bread of heaven, and drink His blood, the cup of salvation, we are “preserved body and soul into everlasting life.”[ii] We become sacramentally united to Him, which is what our souls most want because it was what they were designed to do.
This week is all about adopting a more sacramental mindset when it comes to salvation. As Christians, we are not supposed to see the world as a flat, mechanistic, law-bound machine. The creation is alive with enchantment, with spirits, with angels and with sacramental signs pointing to the living God. When we start to interpret our world in these terms – in sacramental terms – we start to think as Christians.
On Monday, we encounter Naaman, the Syrian who is saved when he is dipped in water seven times at the behest of the prophet, thus prefiguring the efficacy of Baptism. On Tuesday, we explore the grace of God and how he takes our alms, infuses them with an unheard of rate of return, and graciously enables them to offset the massive debt we have incurred through sin. On Wednesday, we explore our penchant to re-interpret commandments we find objectionable (or impossible). On Thursday, we investigate the link between salvation and the Eucharist, while on Friday we grapple with salvation and Baptism. Finally, on Saturday, we review a forgotten tale of redemption, observing how God’s mercy is central to salvation.
[i] Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer, 849.
[ii] Ibid., 338.