A while back, I came across a post on social media with several pictures: bronze statues and reliefs of dogs burnished to a bright gold from thousands of passersby who had pet them for luck, or else simply because dogs—metallic or otherwise—are made to be pet.
My favorite image in the post, pictured above, is from a bronze plaque on the statue of St. John of Nepomuk at the site of his martyrdom, the Vltava River in Prague. I am captivated by the image because the loving caress of the multitudes has transformed the dog into an almost-angelic figure, glowing so radiantly in contrast to the dark patina of the rest of the relief that its light has partially illumined the other figures depicted.
It got me thinking about the transformative power of love. We often hear the old cliché about generational trauma and cyclical violence, “hurt people hurt people,” but almost never the positive corollary: loved people love people. But that is exactly the truth our world needs right now. Love effects noticeable change in its objects that cascades outwards in a ripple effect.
That also means our understanding of what transformation looks like has to be different. Not so much a smelting-and-recasting, remaking us in an instant as something unrecognizable, but a slow and gentle burnishing that reveals our innate brilliance over time. At its core, Christianity is more about being than doing, more about accepting what is offered than obtaining what is earned. God’s grace is what love looks like without conditions, and it is that grace that allows us to shine through all the layers of tarnish.
Within the broader Christian tradition, there are embodied rhythms and rituals through which we encounter God’s grace, called sacraments. As Disciples, we don’t use that term as often as our Catholic and Orthodox siblings, but within the broader Christian tradition, sacraments are understood as efficacious signs. That is, they communicate God’s love for us through symbolism, but they also have an effect on us as embodied creatures who inhabit a material universe.
Rituals like communion and baptism are not how we earn God’s grace—that would be an oxymoron. But they are marks of God’s love for us: “mark” both in the sense of an identifying characteristic and in the effect it has on us.
So for the next seven weeks in Faith Formation and weekly worship, we’ll be exploring the seven practices most commonly called sacraments in the Christian tradition: what they teach us about God and how they manifest God’s love in our lives in tangible ways.
I hope you’ll join us on Sundays at 9am for Faith Formation and worship at 10:15am, as we learn more about the marks of love.
Yours in God’s amazing grace,