The Kingdom of God and the Sacraments of God
Readings taken from Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33,44-52; Psalm 119:129-136
The Liturgical Calendar has taken us through two particularly profound parts of scripture over the last few weeks: Romans chapter 8 and Matthew chapter 13 both speak of the age to come. Paul’s dense theology can be hard to get to grips with and Jesus’ use of parables can be equally confusing, so it is good to take a closer look.
The people of this age: that is modern day society, are just as intrigued by spirituality as the people of the first century were when Jesus spoke to them, and Paul wrote to them. Spiritual truth is something people have always craved; but, I think it is fair to say that people today crave a permissive spirituality; one that allows for the individual to make their own mind up, based on their own feelings, about the ultimate destination of their life and what it all means. These are very important questions to hold; both Jesus and Paul addressed this need; they said the same thing in different ways.
The supreme authority of Christianity, Christ himself, had a single message at the centre of his ministry: the core proclamation that the Kingdom of God is the future glory, promised by the divine, and destined for mankind.
Yet, there remains a deep, unfathomable, mystery at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew does his best to draw it out in today’s gospel reading. The Kingdom is like a mustard seed, it starts small and grows mighty; the Kingdom is like the leaven added to flour, something hidden which over runs and changes the very substance of something else. The Kingdom is something of great value, greater than anything we may presently own. The Kingdom will be a place reserved for the righteous and free from evil. Despite these lessons, something of the mystery remains.
The mystery of the Kingdom of God is mentioned in all the synoptic gospel, and it means the secret way in which God brings about the Kingdom. For the early Church, the act of worship was a way in which those secrets were revealed to the faithful. The Kingdom of God and the sacraments of God have always been linked.
When the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts were brought together and translated into the Latin version of the Bible, called the Vulgate, the Greek word for mystery, which is μυστἠριον, was translated as sacramentum.
The sacramentum was the name of the oath that a Roman legionnaire would make to the Cesar at the initiation of his military service. It was the start of a new life which followed a binding commitment.
As a Christian, our sacrament of baptism serves as that oath into the visible Church. The visible Church is the church that we see here on earth, now, as it is today, with the people gathered in Churches worldwide. But there exists another Church, the invisible Church, the one that we don’t see but that God sees: the one that Jesus and Paul spoke of and what they called the Kingdom.
When we take the sacrament of the Eucharist, we pledge ourselves to that invisible Church, but it is a pledge that is not only reciprocated by God but initiated by Him too. Jesus first offered us the bread and the wine of a new life: take eat, this is my body broken for you, for you! Drink this cup, it is poured out for you, for all of you!
The Kingdom will be fully realised at some future time. This is the message of Christ; this is the message of God. It is the Hope of Christ, but not hope in the sense of an ephemeral, transient emotion to be grasped at, it’s the definitive article, capital letter Hope. The pledge made by a faithful God who always keeps His word to His people.
The Eucharist is what brings all of scripture together: the bread given to the Israelites in the wilderness, the manna from heaven that sustained the promise made to Abraham; the blood of the Passover lamb, sloshed over the doorframes that spared the Israelites from the angel of death.
God’s pledge to them, came to us in Jesus. His new life brought us new life, his bread sustains us, his blood spared us. His pledge to us, it what we return to him when we offer ourselves, like it says in the St. Andrews liturgy of 1982 as a single, holy, living sacrifice. A symbol of all those things but far beyond mere symbol.
The chance to encounter the divine. The Eucharist is offered to you by the priest in the Holy Spiri,t you receive the eucharist by the way of the Holy Spirit. Each Sunday, we find ourselves in the presence of both the mystery and the reality of the triune God. All of God’s grace, all of God’s power, all of God’s mercy, all of God’s love and all of God’s awesome, unfathomable mystery is made available to you through a simple, humble meal. The same meal Jesus offered his disciples on the same day that He planted the tiny mustard seed that grows the Kingdom of God in this age.
Each week we say the Lord’s prayer as part of the liturgy. Each week we say: give us this day our daily bread, from Matthew 6. The original Greek of Matthew reads:
τοναρτον ημων τον επιουσιον δος ημιν σημερον (ton arton hemon ton epiousion dos hemin semeron):
Give us this day our bread that will be sufficient for tomorrow, would be another way to translate this.
The Eucharist is the ‘tomorrow bread’, a reminder that because of God’s love we will always be prepared for what is to come. A reminder of the unshakeable promise about the coming Kingdom.