Sign Language

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I have to give Munger Place Church credit - they have a good ad company!  For a number of months, they had a sign in front of their Church that read “This Is a Sign.”  A simple tautology - of course it’s a sign! Or it could mean something more personal, that you know you should get back to Church, and God has put this sign on your path as you drive home to say “now’s the time and here’s the place.”  Or, thirdly, it could be a bit of theology, for the Church as a whole is a “sign,” that is, a symbolic reality, a coded message to the world. 

In post-World War II Germany there was a theologian named, Gerhard Ebeling who conceived of the whole of the Christian’s life, and of the Church’s life, as a “Word-event.”  By this he meant of course that the Bible is at the center of our life. But he also meant that hearing and speaking to the world and on behalf of the world, is at the most basic level what the Church is for. 

Sometimes people say something like “it was just a symbolic gesture,” as if that made it more real, and so was less than real.  But something is no less real for being symbolic. In fact one definition of “symbol” is a sign that in showing forth shares in the reality it attests.  Isn’t that what we mean, in a strong sense, when we say that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ?

I once wrote a book about the priesthood which claimed that the priest serves, in a flesh-and-blood way, to say something who the Church is, and therefore who God is. One could work out something similar for the other orders - the deacon is a sign of Christ’s identification with the least, and the bishop a sign of the one faith throughout time and space. One could work something similar out for most every area of the Church’s life. Saying something to the world about who Christ is, is actually who we are.