The Christian sacraments of baptism and communion are essential for our faith. But are we living our own lives in the image of our sacraments? Sacramental living is our willingness to bring the grace that God offers us at the altar into everything that we do.
Do this, in remembrance of me. ~ Luke 22:19
The sacraments of the church have always been special for me. For some reason, I still have many clear memories from my very early childhood – one being my baptism at nineteen months. I remember to this day the feeling of awe and wonder that came upon me as water was poured on my head – and complaining to my sister afterwards that I didn’t like it messing up my haircut!
I remember feeling the warm, Spirit-filled presence of God at the communion altar even before I was confirmed as a United Methodist. Somehow I sensed that Holy Communion was not just a remembrance of the Last Supper, but the living presence of God’s grace. Communion celebrations all over the world have sustained in me the hopes and assurances of God’s covenant love for all of us, and God’s earnest desire to help us to grow in grace. The sacraments are a joy, a cornerstone of the joy in my faith.
Sacraments invite us to be sacramental
I look forward with great joy in my heart to being able to consecrate communion elements as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. Already as a lay servant of the church, I have led several communion services with bread and wine consecrated by ordained clergy. This is a living presence of Christ for me, regardless of the procedures, and I love inviting people into that constant and everlasting presence. The sacraments, founded on God’s invitation in scriptures, are essential, fundamental, powerful, and effective.
Yet, by no means do I think that the sacraments that we experience at the altar of our churches are God’s only sacramental presence in our lives. The church’s sacraments are the key experiences of Christ’s holy presence that God invites us all towards in our everyday faith walks. Sacraments are a confirmation of grace and a means of grace, but also an invitation for us to allow God’s grace to grow in us in every moment of our lives, in the image of the confirming and transforming power of the sacraments. I think of our seeking and using this growing grace in our everyday lives as sacramental living.
Bringing our baptism into our lives
All Christians participate in these sacraments of baptism and communion, not just because of they draw us close to God’s promises, but because they draw us close to the perfect model for how we are to live our entire lives – Jesus Christ. Christ IS God’s sacrament, now, forever, and always. There is, in most Christian traditions, one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. However, Christians are invited to “remember our baptism” fairly regularly through worship and other spiritual experiences. We all fall short, and we want to remember that we are born into the life of the church in the Holy Spirit as the “body of Christ” through baptism.
Baptism is God’s perfect welcome to Christian discipleship in the Holy Spirit, which we are invited to remember regularly. Why not remember it every day of our lives?
Bringing communion into our lives
When Jesus offered to his disciples at the Last Supper the bread and wine of their Passover meal, he asked them to celebrate it as his body and blood whenever they were together as disciples. This was not a suggestion – it was a command: “Do this, in remembrance of me.” From the very first days after Jesus’ resurrection, his disciples were breaking bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Jesus. to bring his living presence into their fellowship through the Holy Spirit. Christians believe that this special holy meal is a sacred sharing of Christ, offering God’s costly grace to everyone who seeks it freely and lovingly, acting as Jesus’ first disciples did to bring the power of Christ into their lives.
Communion is God’s perfect example of how God offers forgiveness and new life to everyone, no matter how we have fallen. Why not remember how to do this every day of our lives?
Sacramental Living: “Do this in remembrance of me”
Does that mean that we should be going to communion every day, and getting holy water sprinkled on us every day? Well, many Christians do just that. Even John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed strongly in having Methodists participate in holy communion whenever possible. Perhaps, though, there’s more to our sacraments. When Jesus said “Do this, in remembrance of me” at the Last Supper, perhaps he was talking about more than remembering Jesus with consecrated bread and wine.
Maybe Jesus’ “do this” was more about how we support one another and the world as Christians with the living presence of Christ. We need to feed from God’s grace at the altar, but there is a world that is hungry for that grace, a world that is often very far from the altar in its way of life. Aren’t we supposed to allow Christ’s body to conquer our body, and to allow Christ’s blood to use our blood as the living presence of Christ in the world? Aren’t our sacraments about empowering us for life that is sacramental in its passionate and pure covenant devotion to the life of Christ?
Our bodies, our blood, offered to the world as Christ
We use the term “the body of Christ” to talk about the church as a devoted community of believers. Aren’t we, as devoted Christians, supposed to offer our bodies, in the passionate and sacrificing image of Holy Communion, in service to God in the world? Often we have to bear the pain and hurt of a world that does not understand God’s sacrificing and forgiving love in Christ. Doesn’t God invite us to bear that pain in healing and hoping communion with the blood of Christ within us?
Our sacraments in church invite us to seek the grace that they offer throughout our lives. God invites us in the sacraments not just to be Christians, but to do Christ, seeking the gospel as an abundant living force in our lives, not just talking about it, seeking to offer the world the image of God’s covenant love, not merely receiving it.
Sacramental living is not at the self-service checkout
And we cannot do this alone – our ability to be the body of Christ comes from God’s gifts of grace offered to communities of Christians. The living faith of Christianity is not a tank we fill at a pump, or a product that we buy online or in a store at a self-service checkout. When the Christ within us bleeds in our sacramental living, Christianity, the “body of Christ,” bleeds, and seeks Christ’s healing resurrection joy together. The “cup of salvation” which we receive in Holy Communion invites that bleeding to be transformed into the living presence God’s forgiveness and healing in everyone. The “bread of forgiveness” gives us the strength to accept God’s healing love for ourselves, so that we may offer it to the world
When we bring someone the hope of Christ for the first time and they come to believe, it is then that Christianity, “the body of Christ,” becomes larger, as that person is washed by the waters of God’s tears of joy for their faith, just as we were received into our faith community in our own sacrament of baptism. Sacramental living is becoming part of a community of faith that is in this world, and yet also beyond this world, at one with the gifts of creation, Christ, and heavenly life right now in the Holy Spirit.
Sacraments join us to Christ in sacramental living
Our regular and heartfelt participation in the sacraments at the altar of our churches prepares us to bring the immeasurable and intimate power of God’s grace into the world. Through the sacraments, we become a community of God’s people, people who live for both today and for eternity in everything that we do. If you doubt the mystery of faith that empowers our sacraments, bring that doubt to the altar, and offer it to God in your heart. Let God’s Holy Spirit embrace your doubts, and lead you on a journey in which you will begin to experience the promises of the altar in your everyday living. And if you find Christ in your everyday living, bring that experience to the altar, so that you may experience it more fully as part of a community of Christians devoted to sacramental living. Experience Christ as our sacrament in all things, and rejoice in all things sacramentally through Christ!