Sacraments and Liturgy

Lacking a sacramental theology

I’ve been thinking more and more about the state of the “evangelical” wing of the Anglican church. And the nature particularly of those who are “modernizing” their worship, so that it might be more accessible to those in their parish.
I’m all for contemporary expressions of worship; not wanting to disparage hymnody in any way either. However, it strikes me that the more we push for ‘contemporary’ expressions, the more we are losing the sacramental nature of our worship.
I’ve been reading Alexander Schmemann’s book “For the Life of the World” (see the book here). More and more as I read this book, I am inclined to believe that we have lost a serious portion of our inheritance as Christians by relegating the Sacraments to a mere “remembering.”
As Anglicans, particularly those of us within the evangelical tradition, we stand in a time when the sacraments, mainly the Lord’s Supper, is secondary to our faith. The Word is primary and so it should be. However, I wonder if we’ve created a false dichotomy between the two: Word versus sacrament. Are they not inextricably linked with one another?
Was not Jesus in some sense a Sacrament to the world; the outward sign of an inward grace? Schmemann asserts, from an Orthodox perspective, that without the expression of a sacramental view of life and a regular celebration of the Eucharist Christian life has become joyless. I wonder if he is not close to the truth.
I know for myself that the word joy has always bothered me when speaking of the Christian faith. It is so closely associated in contemporary society with happiness that we have lost its original intent. Gordon Smith says that Joy is a sense of coming home; it is knowing that we have found our rest which we were created for. Schmemann goes on to assert that the Eucharist is not merely the ‘elements’ taken, but rather the entire coming towards and going forth from our encounter with the risen Christ.
When did we lose our ‘thanksgiving,’ our joy? I am beginning to believe more and more that it happened when we opposed the Word with the Sacrament. When we made them at odds with one another or at least separate, we have lost our inherent joy. The Word is the presence of God in our lives just as receiving the Lord’s Supper is an encounter with the risen Christ. When we come to the table, many times we do not expect this encounter. We merely take and return to our seats.
If we understand the deep connectedness between Word and Sacrament, we would desire to receive it as often as possible. In a sense, to worship without the Sacrament is to have an incomplete worship. Just as we would never worship without hearing and digesting the Word, so too should we experience the risen Christ through the Eucharist. Then we are able to go out with joy and go forth with peace.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!


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