Friday, April 27, 2012

sacraments, mission and a really open table

When nothing is holy, everything is holy.

This is what struck me reading this wonderful, thoughtful post by Sally Coleman.

I am suggesting that there are occassions [sic] and contexts where we are able to share the story of God in the world, from creation to re-creation, the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and we need to give people the opportunity to respond…

Imagine setting out to tell the story of God at a town festival, a music festival or something of that kind, tell the story in an imaginative and creative way, and people gather to listen. How then do we invite them to respond? They could come forward and recieve a tract, and prayer, and maybe those things are good, or we could break bread together…

She deploys Scripture

  • the feeding of the 5000 (She’s right – the exact same verbs – took, gave thanks, broke) used by Jesus as at the Last supper.
  • she also reflects on Pentecost (but does overlook the fact that there is no sacraments used at that point. Further than those who heard were devout Jews and thus came from around the Mediterranean with a huge amount of worldview already formed).
  • and on the woman at the Well (although again overlooks the fact that there are no sacraments at that point eitther).

She uses missiology

  • bounded sets and centred sets, the work of Paul Hiebert, to explore what a centred set understanding of sacraments would look like (there’s a few post-graduate theses in that question)

She reflects on tradition

  • the very words and patterns used at communion (She’s right – the words are often so deeply theological that they do require knowledge of the story to unpick the invitation)
  • but she might also want to turn to the pattern of the early church, who delayed communion, placed it on Easter Sunday, after a year long process of formation and understanding.

She uses reason

  • the way that sacraments are “a tangible, physical way for people to meet with and respond to what the Spirit” and extends this forward into initial encounters with the Spirit.

To conclude:

So what am I saying about the sacraments? I believe that they open a door of powerful encounter with God, and that they can be used missionally, indeed that they are in some way;  for if it is the Holy Spirit who brings them to life

It’s a wonderful, thoughtful, probing post. It needs a response, not from the church, but from the culture. Sometimes, might those outside the church want to ponder precious things, to save the moment until their understanding might enable a richer feast. But it’s exactly the type of questions needing asking in our post-Christian context.

Thanks Sally. Just the type of resource to use in my next Church, Ministry, Sacraments class!

Updated: And Sally has blogged a 2nd time, with some more reflection.

Posted by steve at 10:39 AM


  1. An interesting read. I pondered some similar sacramental/missional questions on my research on Eucharist in Fresh Expression communities. Found this article by Harold Percy helpful in a missional sense of open-table sacrament.

    Comment by Spanky — April 27, 2012 @ 10:58 am

  2. Thanks Spanky. Of course, the question for you, my friend, is

    – who made the dinosaurs! (

    and a followup – will those dinosaurs partake of communion! Some masters research for you perhaps?



    Comment by steve — April 27, 2012 @ 11:43 am

  3. 🙂 Steve, maybe I need to clarify, I was not overlooking the lack of sacraments used at either Pentecost (where the invitation to Baptism was given),but looking at it more from the perspective of the people who wanted to make a response)

    As for the woman at the well from John 4, my point was more that Jesus broke down the barriers to worship, but could not his offering of himself as living water be almost sacramental?

    Comment by sally — April 27, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

  4. Thanks again Steve, your thinking sparked my thinking so I have responded with another post!

    Comment by sally — April 27, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

  5. Thanks Sally. Point re baptism and Pentecost well noted.

    There are some groups here in Australia that have used water instead of wine for communion, especially during drought years, because it is so precious. But still think it’s stretching to see that sort of sacramentality in the Samaritan narrative.

    I will add the link to your 2nd post to the blog – have a sleep myself – and see if anything further emerges from my subconscious 🙂


    Comment by steve — April 27, 2012 @ 9:47 pm

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