Holy Communion, Culture, & Vocation

We often talk about how God works through material elements in the sacraments to convey His grace in Christ.  But I came across a quotation that adds a dimension I never thought of before.  The water of Baptism is certainly a natural substance, but the bread and wine of Holy Communion do not occur from nature alone.  As James K. A. Smith points out, they require culture.  And I would add, they require vocation. 

From James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom (Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic, 2009), 200:

After all, it’s not wheat and grapes that are on the table, it’s bread and wine.  These are not naturally occurring phenomena; they are the fruit of culture, the products of human making. . . .The affirmation of the goodness of creation includes not just the furniture of “nature” but also the whole panoply of cultural phenomena that humanity, by its cultural labor, teases out of creation.

So God conveys His grace in Christ by means of material artifacts of human culture.  Specifically, He conveys His grace by means of human vocations:  farmers, bakers, vintners, wine sellers, etc. (and, of course, pastors).

That God works through vocation to care for His creation is a basic tenet of the doctrine of vocation.  And that He works through human institutions–the social and economic order–is a basic tenet of the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms.  In Holy Communion, all of these come together, and God uses them for our spiritual nourishment.

HT:  Brett McCracken, Gray Matters

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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