The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Father Carl's sermon for Septuagesima Sunday

Everyday earthly objects, symbols or occurrences that relate to the heavenly or eternal.

In the course of His earthly ministry, our Lord very often resorted to teaching by parables. In His parables, He would draw from nature or from human affairs. Always, the reference to common, everyday occurrences in nature or the lives of those to whom He preached was obvious. Sometimes, although the analogy to those common things was very easily visualized, the hearers did not always understand the simile, the teaching at which Jesus was aiming. We can think of the parables of the sower and the seed, and the wheat and the tares, both of which we read this past week at Mattins, where His disciples had to ask Him afterwards what they meant.

Other parables, were obvious, both in their imagery and in their teaching: the Pharisee and the Publican praying in the Temple, or heaven being like a fishing net where the good catch is kept and the bad is discarded.

Still other parables are so graphic in their imagery that we can get “hung up” on the earthly side of them, rather than seeing the point that our Lord was trying to make. Today we have one such parable where the analogy that Jesus paints is so easy to visualize, that people take it literally, rather than symbolically as He tells us to. He starts off by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like,” not, “The kingdom of heaven is.” And then He goes on to use the illustration of workers in a vineyard. And of course, many stumble at the graphically portrayed story of equal pay for unequal work; some are even indignant towards our Lord for this allegory. But, of course, He was speaking metaphorically to make the point that, regardless of when we might respond to God’s call to His kingdom, the free gift – portrayed as a penny’s wage – the free gift, the reward, is eternal life. All have that same promise before them, and none of us must resent the lateness of the hour at which others answer the call.

Jesus’ parables: the use of earthly objects, symbols or occurrences to teach of the heavenly or eternal – windows to God or heaven if you will.

In the Church’s terminology there is a word that is often heard as an adjective, but less frequently as a noun, where its meaning is different. It came up in our discussion of Acts Chapter 19 at Bible Study the week before last. It was in reference to verses 11 and 12 of the chapter in which we read, “And God wrought special miracles by the hand of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” The word in question is sacramental, which the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines as, “Certain religious practices and objects akin to the Sacraments, but differing in being held not to have been instituted by Christ and therefore of relatively less importance. Their number is undetermined, but they are sometimes classified under the six heads of praying, anointing, eating, confessing, giving and blessing. They include (making) the sign of the cross, the saying of grace at meals, the Confession recited at Mass and in the Divine Office, vestments, lights, palms and ashes etc.” In the case of articles of Paul’s clothing, the association is that as St. Paul was specially anointed by God, then objects with which he had come in contact would themselves be more than just any other object of clothing. We might also think of the woman who was healed the instant that she touched the hem of Jesus garment.

Unlike God, sacramentals can be seen. Perhaps that is why some of the faithful fall into the practice of making them objects of worship, even the worship that correctly is due to God alone. Unlike the Sacraments, sacramentals, it is believed, do not convey God’s grace in and of themselves regardless of the subjective attitude of the recipient or practitioner, ex opere operato being the technical term. They may, happily, draw us much closer to God. Correctly viewed, sacramentals are earthly objects, symbols or occurrences that are aids to worship, even windows to God.

Sacraments, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” use earthly objects and symbols to signify the sacred thing. They are “visible signs of invisible grace,” as St. Augustine defined them. In the case of the two Dominical Sacraments, thus named because they are considered essential to salvation, in having been ordained by Christ Himself, and with His command to execute them on all who would be His followers, the Church believes the earthly objects, through the working of God, convey grace. Which is to say, they are not just aids to worship, or windows to God or the heavenly; rather, they are means by which God interacts directly with our souls.

The bread and wine – the earthly objects – in the Sacrament of the altar, the Eucharist, become, as He Himself said, the Body and Blood of Christ – the heavenly thing – by which our souls are fed. In Baptism, water – the earthly object – symbolizes the washing away of sins and the spiritual regeneration – the heavenly thing that God actually does to our souls. Some of our reformed brothers and sisters place Sacraments in the same category as sacramentals – though they use neither term – insisting that all of these things are purely symbolic or memorial. They perform them, as instructed by Christ, but stop short of accepting that they are means by which God’s grace enters our souls.

Parables: the use of earthly objects, symbols or occurrences to teach of the heavenly or eternal.

Sacramentals: earthly objects, symbols or occurrences that may be aids to worship.

Sacraments: earthly objects, ordained by Christ to become vehicles of God’s grace, and that touch our very souls with the heavenly.

And let us all therefore be happy witnesses to the Sacrament of Baptism, following our Lord’s instructions, in which God, washing her by His Holy Spirit, will regenerate Maya’s soul, adopting her for His own as a child of heaven.