Last summer, I was blessed to attend my fifth Luther Academy of the Rockies. One of the speakers was Bishop Michael Burke, of the Southeast Iowa Synod, who was sharing things he had learned over his years as bishop.
In his sharing, he spoke about the importance of the sacraments. As Lutherans, we honor two sacraments: baptism and communion. Bishop Burke said several times that baptism gets a bum rap as we consistently focus on communion, ignoring the gift of baptism, saving it for special occasions in the assembly rather than lifting it up in its physical form. We talk about it, but we do not celebrate it as an equal sacrament. Baptism is often considered an entrance rite…a way people “become” Christians by washing in the cleansing, gift-giving water. Communion is the body and blood of Christ; this sacrament feeds us with Christ for the journey of our daily lives. Both sacraments come to us uniquely.
Communion comes at a table. We feast on the sacrament to gain strength, to be able to grow in our faith, to receive the nourishment of God in our very bodies. We meet one another at the table and receive the elements, wine and bread, Word and faith, knowing we are forgiven, we are loved, and we are all equal in the eyes of God. No one there needs a greater amount of forgiveness than another.
Baptism comes through water, Word, and faith. Here, our spirit is washed clean of all sin, of all the barriers we put between ourselves and God. In the water, Word, and faith mixture, we are seen as pristine by God; sin forgiven, gifts revealed, connection to the greater Church community—communion—is opened to our awareness.
Bishop Burke lamented that we do not wash ourselves in worship and wondered if it were possible to have people do this regularly, making the sacrament of baptism as much a focus as communion. We are doing this at Messiah. On the third Sunday of the month, we’ll celebrate baptism, recalling the promises and the meanings of our faith as heard in the baptismal rite. These things were said at your baptism, they were confirmed as you affirmed your understanding of them and took responsibility for your faith at Confirmation, and we are able to recall them daily when we use water on ourselves in our homes, when we wash our hands or clean the dishes.
Raising an awareness of the elements of the sacraments and thinking about the words around them when we are outside the church building is one way to deepen our discipleship and grow our faith in the world. To be God’s people is to live into these sacraments, to practice daily the Word we believe washes and feeds us. It does not sound like “enough” and yet it is what has continued the movement of the Gospel, and awareness of God’s love and mercy for us, for over 2000 years.
We are called in these sacraments to action. We are called to gift out our gifts, to share out forgiveness, to honor the image of God in every other person. This looks like what today is called “social justice.” It means feeding the poor, healing the sick, forgiving the rascals, and loving the stranger.
We are a people blessed to know God who is human, God who is Spirit, God who is Creative Love. We have the physical elements of the sacraments joined with Word and faith to bind us into the body of our Triune God.
What is our call as a congregation, to be the physical presence of God in our community, to Creatively Love our neighbor, to be the Spirit of mercy in our town and beyond? Individually, it might be easier to name where this activity of the sacrament moves us. As an assembled people, there must be people with passion and those who will support them as they lead us into the community.
Bishop Burke had an idea, named (again) for us “an identity in Christ as sacramental people.” We wash and we feast. Let us share the water, wine, and bread in our daily lives, with Thanksgiving to God for the greatness of God’s presence in, among, and through us.
Blessings be upon you! ~Pastor Amy