Monday, November 18, 2013
Holy Hide and Seek. . .
The "real presence" is neither some Roman Catholic hold over nor is it some sacramental oddity. It is one of the central pillars upon which Lutheranism rests and, with it, all of evangelical catholicity. Early in Lutheranism, the real presence was central to the piety as well as doctrine of the Church of the Reformation. What has happened since has been less than salutary. Lutherans have been influence too much by the real absence of Protestant sacramental theology (or lack thereof) and gravely tempted to a piety in which God inhabits thoughts more than water or bread or wine or the voice of the absolution.
Too often Lutheran Christians sing "Seek the Lord while He may be found" and then wonder where they will find the Lord today. We seek the Lord while He may be found but even more importantly where He may be found. We did not banish the Lord from everywhere to the somewhere of the earthly forms of the sacraments. God in His wisdom knew our weakness and need and has bound Himself to His Word, His water, His voice (absolution), and His table. We do not find Him; He reveals Himself. He reveals Himself in the places where He has promised to be. Authentic Lutheran piety is thus formed by and returns to the efficacious Word and the Sacraments of His promise. Here is the Lord, hidden so that faith recognizes Him but present as He has promised so we are not left wondering.
Lutherans do not content themselves with part of the promise. If we do, we are not being true to our Confessions. The Word of God comes to us attached to concrete earthly reality. Scripture is His voice still calling to repentance, forgiving the penitent, guiding the lost, filling the mind and heart of the hearer. The water of baptism extends His arms to grasp us for His kingdom and ,mark us as His own. The bread and wine of His Holy Supper nourish and sustain the faith born in the water by the power of the Spirit. They are given not to be adored, though we adore Christ in them, nor to be watched as if watching were its own end, but to participate in by feeling the splash of water, hearing the sound of His voice, and eating and drinking the bread and wine He names as His own flesh and blood. We should not and cannot play a game of holy hide and seek to find the Lord and neither can we console ourselves with part of what God has come to deliver in full measure.
The God who is everywhere is no where accessible. The God who is somewhere (Word and Sacraments) is accessible to all who receive Him. That is the mystery. By being specifically in these places, God makes Himself accessible to all. Without these means of grace, we have no assurance that He is anywhere at all when we seek Him, when our sin soaked souls cry out for relief and our fragile flesh cries out for life. The real presence is key to Lutheran piety.
Where is God? Where He promises. The predictable places where He has attached Himself -- to water in baptism, to the voice of absolution, to the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Thanks be to God!