A sacrament is a sign of something which is really present.
Henri de Lubac says:
“If Christ is the sacrament of God, the church is for us the sacrament of Christ; she represents him in the full and ancient meaning of the term, she really makes him present . . . she is his very continuation”
I really like this model. I think it gives the acts which we consider sacraments (Baptism and Eucharist) a whole new meaning. They and the Church are “events of grace”. They communicate to the Church which is then able to communicate to the world the sheer vastness of God’s good and perfect grace.
It burdens the Church with a huge responsibility of indiscriminately showing that grace. It’s not enough for us to simply tell people that the grace exists; we must exhibit it. And our in church actions – offices, rituals, committees, meetings – must be rooted in and expressions of faith, hope and love, or they are signs of something which does not exist.
There is something prophetic in the sacraments being performed together as a church community – they have “dialogic structure”. I guess that’s a fancy way of saying they encourage dialogue without requiring us to speak. Taking communion together or witnessing the baptism of a fellow believer unites us and enables us to communicate to each other our commitment to one another and reliance upon the grace of God in that. At church we often hand the piece of bread or little cup of wine to someone else, a sign that we are united as a family of believers and that God’s grace is also extended to us all.
Apparently this is quite a common outlook in Catholic theology but I think it would be right for it to be given more attention in the Protestant Church.