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Using the sacraments to find our way home

January 21, 2012

Last week, the new associate pastor at our church made a big splash during the children’s sermon.

She brought the baptismal font out front and opened it. The kids crowded forward, leaning in to get their fingers into the water. They washed their hands in it. Their clothes got wet, and before it was all over the chancel could have doubled as a Slip N Slide.

I could not help but think to myself: Now we’re havin’ church!

Meanwhile, in Orlando, Presbyterians unhappy with the PC(USA) for opening the door to gay ordination did what unhappy Presbyterians have historically done when they disagreed: They split.  

I could be wrong, but I cannot help but wonder if our tendency to discard the sacraments is a contributor to our inability to stay together as one community despite significant differences.

The Reformed tradition understands the sacraments as signs of the presence and power of Christ in the church, and symbols of God’s action. God works through these sign-acts to seal believers in redemption, renew their identity as the people of God and mark them for service.

This is more than religious-sounding mumbo jumbo.

These actions are traced to the early church, which followed the example of Jesus by taking water, bread and wine as symbols of offering life to God.  In the waters of baptism, Christians receive new life in Christ. In eating the bread and drinking the wine, they receive Christ’s renewed presence.

But how can we remember that we are claimed in the waters of baptism if the font remains covered on Sunday morning and tucked away in a distant corner of the sanctuary?

How can we be fortified by eating the bread and drinking the wine, receiving the sustaining presence of Christ, if we only have the Lord’s Supper once a month?

John Calvin believed that the spiritual promises offered by the Eucharist are so inviting that we should flock at least once a week to Holy Communion like starving people who just caught sight of an overloaded dinner table.

I believe that the presence of Christ in communion is not only a sign and seal of our salvation but seals our communities. It speaks in a way the preacher cannot, and it unites God and God’s people – a fulfillment of the divine mission of reconciliation.

I am not naive enough to believe that simply restoring the place of the sacraments in Christian worship solves all our problems. But perhaps it could return us to something we have lost — a precious gift that brings us together when we are breaking apart.

After all, the preacher can always get it wrong. But if the service concludes with Communion, Christ has made things right again, and the Gospel has been preached.

We are broken and hungry, and we need to be fed at the Lord’s Table. We are like sheep who have gone astray, each turning to our own way. In times like these, perhaps we need to run to the baptismal font and splash around together for awhile with the kids.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2012 4:31 am

    i love your blog, i have it in my rss reader and always like new things coming up from it.

  2. January 26, 2012 8:29 pm

    Thank you!

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