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“I grew up in a home where we believed in miracles. We took the Bible literally—or at least we said we did. We called my grandmother, with just a smidgen of pride, a ‘prayer warrior’ (wince) because she was known as such a strong and steady person of prayer.”
These are the words of a colleague, shared over coffee. He was out of work and his marriage was tenuous, but holding. The rather somber mood was lifted when he said “My wife and I wandered into a Lutheran Church. We’ve been going regularly. I think weekly communion saved our marriage. Maybe saved my life.”
Of course, I like the sacrament. Given my druthers, our congregation would celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. But as much as I like and appreciate the sacrament, I had never heard someone claim that it had, possibly, saved his life.
When he was too broken and confused for the words of worship to mean much, somehow the Lord’s Supper, with its tangibility and objectivity, nourished him. It gave him strength to carry on. No matter what did or didn’t happen in worship at that Lutheran church, he received Jesus in the sacrament.
Wonderful story, no doubt. But it took this friend to point out the strange and sad irony of being raised in a miracle-believing, biblical-literalist, prayer-warrior family, where the sacrament was devalued, virtually shunned. The attitude was almost “Look away. Pay no attention. Nothing going on there!”
Wouldn’t you think that people who see a world filled with miracles, who expect their neighbor’s short leg to grow and their aunt’s cancer to recede in response to prayer, would find it plausible that God could actually come to us through bread and grape juice? Couldn’t the God who rained down fire on the dripping wet altars at Mount Carmel rather easily transform, in some very real sense, grocery-store white bread into Christ’s body—or at least in something that truly does feed the soul?
“This is my body, broken for you.” To a biblical literalist that would seem like a pretty straightforward statement. Apparently it was to Luther at the well-known Marburg Colloquy of 1529. The other option is to get Clintonesque and say “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Why are the people, who deep in their bones are distrustful of anything about their God being equated with or demoted to a symbol, the very same ones who are oddly quick to dismiss the sacraments as anything more than a glorified object lesson?
And for people who deeply believe in the power of prayer, simply to request “Send your Holy Spirit upon us, we pray, that the bread which we break and the cup which we bless may be to us the communion of the body and blood of Christ” seems like setting the bar pretty low. You hardly need to be a prayer warrior to ask for that.
I’m not pushing for a Lutheran understanding of the sacrament, let alone a Roman Catholic perspective. And I know the history, not simply of the Reformation, but also how the anti-Catholic animosity only increased over time. But until this colleague put it so simply, I had never realized how incongruous that so many Christians who are not so otherwise, become minimalist, low-expectation, anti-miracle, rationalists when it comes to the sacraments. Both of them, actually.
Can the sacraments save your life? I suppose that miraculously, by the power of prayer, and as declared by scripture, they can.