Monday, May 20, 2013

The Sacramental Quality of Reading Scripture

While the sacramental quality of Scripture had crossed my mind before, I don't think I had ever given much thought to what that effectively meant.  Two quotes I read today on another blog ( brilliantly describe how the reading of Scripture is not mere devotional reading, but a real participation in the Biblical story.

The first is from Martin Thornton, quoting Sergius Bulgakov:
During the service of Christmas there is not merely the memory of the birth of Christ, but truly Christ is born in a mysterious manner, just as at Easter he is resurrected. … The life of the Church, in these services, makes actual for us the mystery of the Incarnation. … [I]t is given to the Church to make living these sacred memories so that we should be their new witnesses and participate in them. (Christian Proficiency, p.69)
The second is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic book, "Life Together" - even though I've read through the book twice, the importance of this passage did not hit me until now:
Consecutive reading of biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of men. We become part of what once took place for our salvation. Forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land. With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance experience again God’s help and faithfulness. All this is not mere reverie but holy, godly reality. We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth. There God dealt with us, and there he still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace. It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, howsoever important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the history of the Christ on earth. And only in so far as we are there, is God with us today also. (Life Together, p.38)

In the Lutheran tradition, we commonly refer to the pastoral office as the office of "Word and Sacrament." Given the sacramental quality of the Word, I'll have to rethink how I describe the office of ministry, as that phrase implies a dichotomy where there is none.  In any event, viewing the reading of Scripture as a sacramental action, where the reader is engaged in a real encounter with God, gives me a greater impetus to focus on the daily office of prayer and Scripture reading.


  1. This is another great post. I think you are approaching the concept that all Christians must become mystics. When this happens, the Church will be united.

    Speaking of the ministerial priesthood (pastoral office), we must try to understand it in its true mystical sense. (In my posts, I have tried to express this concept in terms of "levels.")

    Luther was right: we are all priests. However, we do not all have the same function in the Body, the Church. I am a woman, I am married, I am a priest. I am a woman, I am married, I cannot receive Holy Orders -- I cannot be ordained to the "ministerial priesthood" -- that is another level in the mystical world. This does not mean I am "lower" or "worse" than Father Smith -- I have a different calling. Dogs cannot be cats. Pigs cannot fly.

    I wish I could explain this better. Women can be great leaders, teachers, scholars; but they cannot preside at Eucharist and give Absolution -- they cannot be Priests. This is a special calling in the Church, and it must be confirmed by the Church.

    Men can be wonderful fathers, leaders, teachers, but they cannot give birth or nurse babies. Does this mean that they are "lower" than women?

    In the natural world and in the spiritual world, there are different functions and levels. The true mystic can see this. I will bet a nickel that if Saint Benedict were here today he could explain this very well.

  2. You make some good points. One of the reasons I started this blog is because I think too many Lutherans have ignored the mystical/ascetic tradition. When there is a common focus on union with God,I have a feeling that some of our human squabbles about religion will fall away.

  3. Exactly. Here I am at a loss for words... but if only Lutherans could understand the Mass. That would fix everything. I think -- because of the abuses of his time -- Luther lost his appreciation of the Mass. I became a Catholic reading The Imitation of Christ -- that is the tradition Luther should have had and understood in the monastery. Have you read anything by Scott Hahn? The Supper of the Lamb?

  4. One of my summer reading goals is to read more about the liturgy. A couple of books by Alexander Schmemann are at the top of my list, but I'll see if I can fit Hahn in.

  5. For me, it is very simple. The Mass is mystical. The priest simply reaches through a "veil" and touches the Crucifixion. This is why it is called "the Sacrifice of the Mass." The Real Presence is the Real Presence -- no qualifications. It is the Life of the Church. Without it, a "church" will die. Are you familiar with the Miracles of the Eucharist? I plan to do a post on that.