I wake up. I shower. I get out of bed, pulling the sheets and blankets back in place. I head upstairs to the bathroom (washroom, for you Canadians). I shower, feel the warm water, make it hotter, scald my skin a little, but not too much. I make oatmeal, add table syrup, eat. It’s a regular routine. Every morning, this is my reality.
Generally, in those moments, the bed, the shower, the oatmeal are the only real things to me. The physical becomes central to my experience of the world. I appreciate beauty, but often only as it appeals to my senses. I try to ask good questions, but they disappear from my mind the second some other, more physical (and therefore more urgent) need comes up.
Perhaps you know what I’m talking about; experiencing life in such a way that we forget that there is greater reality. As the author of Hebrews says of the Old Testament priests, “they serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” (Hebrews 8:5) In its earthly form, even the most dignified of human practices, the ritual worship of YHWH, remained only a taste of the heavenly reality.
Of course, if you’re anything like me, you’re modern sensitivities and anti-Gnostic alarms are ringing after that last paragraph. Fair enough. There is always a danger in our recognition of the heavenly reality that we might denigrate the body and the physical. However, recognizing that our reality is ultimately sacramental not only places our hope in the heavenly places, where Christ reigns, but also endows that very physicality with its deepest meaning and significance.
Often, in the name of hallowing God’s creation and defending against Gnosticism, we desacramentalize the world. Food becomes a means of sustenance or even pleasure, but not a looking forward to the wedding supper of the Lamb and his Bride. Sex becomes merely physical, or at best, the height of emotional intimacy, but not a foreshadowing of the depths of pleasure and joy to be found in the Bridegroom’s embrace. As we strip things of their sacramental significance in an attempt to honor them, we lose sight that this reality is a shadow (albeit, a good shadow) of what is to come.
It is well beyond me to imagine what the fulfillment of the Christian hope will look like. I anticipate, and look forward to it, but cannot describe it. That’s as it should be. We have been given a reality that points forward to what is even more deeply real. We are invited by Christ to eat his flesh and drink his blood. What if we started living as if this world was sacramental, pointing us to a higher world?
Most days, I’m not even sure what that looks like. However, every now and then, the Spirit will give me a taste – a delicious meal, joyous company, even a well-shot basketball – and I am struck with wonder: if this is a shadow, what will the reality be like?
It’s not about being so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good. It’s realizing that the kingdom of God is the bringing of heaven, the really real, to this place of shadows, sanctifying it and bringing it to fullness. Maranatha, Lord Jesus.