Created materiality is good; indeed, it is very good. It is not simply good in an ethical sense but delightful and wonderous. God created the world as a temple in which to dwell, a place where God and humanity would enjoy each other, delight in the wonder of the world, and rest within it.
Materiality, rather than something to be discarded in the end, was designed as a means by which finite, material humans would participate in the communion of God’s life. Creation was not an addendum or a secondary reality but the reality through which humans would experience God and become like God.
But, alas, creation is now broken. It is still good, but broken. It is enslaved, infected with chaos, and subjected to frustration. Nevertheless, creation still performs its role–it is a means by which we participate in the life of God. We still experience God through creation as, for example, when we experience the beauty of God’s creation. We experience God in the little things of creation as well as in its majestic views. Yet, creation is broken. It is filled with pain, hurt, tragedy and death. It is frustrating and we yearn for liberation as creation itself groans for renewal and redemption.
Despite its brokenness, God affirmed the goodness of creation through the incarnation. God became flesh–material. The Son became part of the creation itself, lived within the creation and experienced the Father through creation.
More than this, the Son became new creation. He inaugurated new creation as the new human who was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God. The Son is new creation, the new Adam, the new human.
This is where the sacraments become a meeting place between the old and new creations–an encounter moment where God offers humans living in the broken, old creation an experience of the new creation through the exalted Jesus.
The Eucharist is bread and wine, but it is more than bread and wine. It is not “regular” meal. We may experience God through any meal–whether it is the nightly family meal, the church pot-luck or thanksgiving dinner! Old creation is still good and is still a medium of God’s presence in the world. But the Eucharist is more.
The Eucharist is the experience of new creation. The bread and wine of the old creation become means by which we experience the reality of the new cration. It is still bread and wine–created materiality is not annihilated–but it is also a participation in the reality of the new creation through the presence of Christ. Whether we think of that presence in the bread, through the bread or at the table is inconsequential to my point here. The Eucharistic meal is a new creation meal that does not annihiliate materiality or creation. Rather, it transforms it, liberates it and brings it to its telos (goal).
Baptism is water but is more than water. It is not a “regular” dip in water. We may experience God in the shower or through a warm, long hot bath. Old creation is still good and is still a medium of God’s presence in the world. But Baptism is more.
Baptism is the experience of new creation. The water of the old creation becomes a means by which we experience the reality of the new creation. It is still water–created materiality is not annihilated–but it is also a participateion in the reality of the new creation through our union with Christ. In or through Baptism we participate in the eschatological death and resurrection of Jesus. We rise from the watery grave to live as new creatures; participants in new creation. Baptism is a new creation bath in water that does not annihiliate materiality or creation. Rather, it ushers us, by the Spirit, into the reality of the new creation where we are raised to sit with Christ in heavenly places at the right hand of God.
Assembly is gathering of people but it more than a mere gathering. It is not simply a group of people “hanging out.” We may experience God through haning out with friends, even going to ballgames and playing in God’s good createion. Old creation is still good and it is still a medium of God’s presence in the world. But Assembly is more.
Assembly is the experience of new creation. The gathering of God’s people within the old creation becomes a means by which we experience the reality of the new creation. We are still living here in this broken, old creation but through that gathering of material creatures we participate in the reality of the new creation through union with the eschatological assembly of God around the throne of God. Through Assembly we enter the holy of holies as a community and join the community that is already and eschatologically gathered there. We participate in the Sanctus of the angels and join the heavenly chorus, singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Neither our materiality nor our creatureliness is annihilated. Rather, through creation we participate in new creation as the Spirit of God takes into the throneroom of God just as John was lifted there “in the Spirit” in the Apocalypse.
The Eucharist, Baptism and Assembly are meeting places. They are places, by the promise of God, where God meets us in this old, broken creation in order to experience–to taste, to get a glimpse of–the new creation. They are moments of both authentic participation in the new creation as well as anticipations (hope) of the fullness of new creation.
Through the sacraments, God authentically communes with us and promises that one day the brokenesses of creation will pass away and all creation will be liberated and renewed.
This is why I love the sacraments–they are gifts of God through which we experience new creation and anticipate the new heaven and new earth. They are injections of hope in a broken world, previews of coming attractions, and proleptic experiences of what is to come.