pathways of prayer
Week 4 - The Sacramental path
For inasmuch as without you,
we are not able to please you,
mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit,
may in all things,
direct and rule our hearts,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer
When we were thinking about the Devotional Path we thought about the famous story from the Gospels when two disciples encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Somehow the deeply personal contact, whether human or divine, defies the logic of the mind. And at the end of Gospel Story, Jesus is recognised by the two disciples as he breaks bread in their midst.
Come with us, then, to explore the Sacramental Path...
For many of the different Christian traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed) the Sacraments bring us close in a tangible way, the idea of God's saving grace to us.
Theologically we talk of sacrament as an outward sign of God's grace and, particularly at the Eucharist, a visible manifestation of Christ the Word made Flesh.
In our Gospel passage we enter into the final evening that Jesus spent with his disciples, where he washed their feet to demonstrate how he is the suffering servant who dies for the sins of the world. This final evening culminates with the Last Supper which is remembered and celebrated through the Sacrament known variously as the Mass, the Eucharist, Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper.
In this Sacrament we are brought as close as we can be to the Grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. In the 'pathway' we reach the culmination of the Christian life, where we are brought into the paschal mystery (the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) who sends us out into the world, which is why at the end of the liturgy the people are sent out with a Commission and a Blessing.
Language is crucial here - the liturgy is full of language that is not just poetic and beautiful but points us to the profound reality of the incarnate presence of God amongst us. The closeness of God to human life is where we began with our journeying companions.
This Sacramental Path recognises that when we draw close to God descriptive words are never sufficient, there needs to be something more - the visual, the tangible, the poetic.
This sense of the imminence of God is explored powerfully in George Herbert's poem Love Bade Me Welcome.
An important part of this path is the part played by the Lord's Prayer:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
This prayer touches on all pathways but plays a particular significance in the Sacramental which is very much at the centre, both of the Sacramental liturgies and the daily offices of prayer.
Attend a Catholic Mass or a similar Eucharistic service. Sit at the back and watch the liturgy, think about the place of word, sacrament and song.
Try meditating on the word of the Lord's Prayer or the poem by George Herbert.
The next path takes us along the Contemplative Path