Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. One Lord, one faith, one baptism.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit. This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. And when Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The one who believes and is baptised will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.
Peter said to them, 'Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptised?' Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptised.
When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death. Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. As many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. And baptism which this prefigured, now saves you - not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
He took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, 'Take this and divide it among yourselves; And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them.
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often a you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?
John 6:51; Ephesians 4:5; Luke 3:3; Mark 1:8; 1 John 5:6; Matthew 3:16; Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:12; 8:36; 18:8; Colossians 1:12; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21; Luke 22:19,17,20; Luke 24:30; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29; 1 Corinthians 10:16.
A sacrament is 'an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.' The word comes from the Latin sacramentum, the term used for the coin given to a soldier to signify his oath of loyalty when recruited to serve the Emperor. His allegiance was to Caesar as lord. In the Christian sacraments, we pledge our loyalty to Christ: 'Jesus is Lord' (Romans 10:9).
For people in tune with the Infinite God everything is sacramental. Teilhard de Chardin has said, 'Because of creation and even more because of incarnation there is nothing profane for those who know how to see.' God's grace gifts are many and varied - our very life, the world of nature and of other people, prayer, the Scriptures, the Christian community, corporate worship. These are all 'means of grace'.
But the Lord serves us especially in 'the sacraments' of water, bread and wine. They are special reminders of God's grace to us, unworthy as we are. He pledges in them his loyalty to us. His steadfast love is with us forever.
Baptism. Water, of course, is the common element for cleansing. When 'pagans' wanted to join the Jewish faith they were baptized, cleansed, with water. John the Baptist told religious Jews they, too, needed to be baptized as a sign of their repentance. This they naturally found hard to take.
Jesus was baptized by John, then Jesus' disciples baptized converts during his ministry. At the end of his life he commissioned his disciples to make disciples everywhere, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20).
Baptism is associated in the New Testament with a rich variety of meanings: the washing away of our sins (Acts 22:16); putting off the old life like soiled clothes, and putting on Christ, like a new, clean garment (Galatians 3:27, Ephesians 4:22-24); being buried and raised with Christ (Colossians 2:12). Baptism, like the waters in Noah's time, is linked with our salvation (1 Peter 3:21), so we, like him, should be godly in a corrupt and sinful world. Baptism is the sign of the new covenant God makes with us, our children, and all that 'far away' (Acts 2:39, Colossians 2:11-12). It is an act of faith (often of real courage, too) before witnesses. It's a proclamation, a dramatization of Christ's work for sinful humanity (Romans 6). Baptism means we are now owned by Christ (the words 'in the name' signify ownership) (Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48 etc.). Baptism is associated, too, with 'baptism in the Holy Spirit': two aspects of what Paul calls 'one baptism' (Ephesians 4:5; see also Titus 3:5, John 3:5, Luke 3:22, Acts 2:38, 1 Corinthians 12:13). Finally, baptism is the door into the church.
Baptism is not really an individual event. You don't baptize yourself. You are asking to belong. You are coming into a new community. Paul says we are 'baptized into Christ' (Romans 6:3) and baptized into the Body of Christ, the Church (1 Corinthians 12:13).
So baptism is an 'acted creed'. 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven' ought to be our response at every baptism. Baptism is the rite of entry into the church. It is ordination for ministry. It ought to be the time when a person receives the fullness of the Spirit, and before the congregation is assured of his or her 'Spiritual giftedness'. The baptismal service should have some sort of creed or covenantal statement to express the body of beliefs and commitments of the church into which the candidates are being baptized. The Apostles' Creed was originally called the Baptismal Creed.
The mode of baptism, the amount of water used and the age of the baptized may vary from church to church. The more important factor is that one is baptized in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The time is coming, hopefully, when more churches will recognize each other's baptism in this way.
If you have not been baptized, why should you? Not to save you - we are saved by God's grace and our response in faith, not by anything we do (John 3:35, Ephesians 2:8,9). The best reason for being baptized is that Jesus, your Master, commands it (Matthew 28:19). He himself was baptized to 'do all that God requires' (Matthew 3:15). Every step of obedience you take (and this is certainly a major one) strengthens and encourages you to follow Christ still further.
The Lord's Supper, or 'Eucharist', is really high drama, and refers to the memorial feast instituted by Jesus just before he died. As he celebrated the Passover with his friends, he gave them bread and wine, saying 'this is my body', 'this is my blood'. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 suggest that the Lord's Supper had become a focal point of worship in the early churches. Justin Martyr in the early second century in his First Apology states that Christians met on the first day of the week to worship and 'break bread' together. With very few exceptions this sacred meal has been practised in all Christian denominations to the present day.
'Eucharist' means 'thankfulness': this service is a thankful remembrance of our Lord's death for us. Roman Catholics use the term 'Mass', from the Latin missa, a 'service' or perhaps 'feast'. The early Christians thought of Christ in terms of the past ('remember me'), present ('you proclaim the Lord's death'), and future (till he come') (1 Corinthians 13:13, Hebrews 13:8).
The Communion is not just a private affair between an individual and Jesus, but a public act of the entire assembly, a public sign of our intention to be united with each other (1 Corinthians 10:17).
Anglican article 28 offers three aspects of the Lord's Supper: # it is a sign of Christian love; # it is a symbol of Calvary, and the provision, through Christ's death, of forgiveness of sins and a new life; and # it is a means of grace. By faith we believe that when we receive this sacrament our lives are strengthened and our faith renewed. As the bread and wine are assimilated into our bodies, so, by faith, the person of Christ enters again spiritually into the life of the communicant.
You ask, 'But what if I don't feel I'm good enough?' That's a serious question, and you are invited to confess your sins and accept again the forgiveness of Christ before you partake of the sacred elements. But if we have to wait until we are sinless to participate, none of us would qualify!
There is great value in a weekly celebration of the Eucharist: in Acts 20:7 coming together for this purpose on the Lord's Day is mentioned as though it were a matter of course. There may also be other occasions where Christians can meet around the table of the Lord. At the time of the Communion we might make another opportunity to get right with one another. Sometimes let us move around and say something meaningful to another: a word of encouragement, confession, maybe a plea for forgiveness.
Do it differently sometimes, and think about what you are doing. For example, for churches where people come to the front to receive the bread, why not take it to them, symbolizing the good news that grace meets you not after you become worthy, but in order to help you become worthy? Perhaps servers of the wine could position themselves around the meeting-place, and people go to them. That is, as grace is given to us freely, we have to be willing to receive it: I will get up and go and claim the gift Christ offers. If the elements are normally served to the congregation, let them come to the front to receive them sometimes. Or serve each other. Or sing some meaningful worship-songs during communion.
A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time which you can see through to something deep inside time.
Generally speaking, Protestants have two official sacraments (the Lord's Supper, Baptism) and Roman Catholics these two plus five others (Confirmation, Penance, Extreme Unction, Ordination, and Matrimony). In other words, at such milestone moments as seeing a baby baptised or being baptised yourself, confessing your sins, getting married, dying, you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.
Needless to say, church isn't the only place where the holy happens. Sacramental moments can occur at any moment, any place, and to anybody. Watching something get born. Making love. A high-school graduation. Somebody coming to see you when you're sick. A meal with people you love. Looking into a stranger's eyes and finding out he's not a stranger.
If we weren't blind as bats, we might see that life itself is sacramental.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London: Collins, 1973, p.82-83.
Ignatius says, When eating, think of Jesus. Zen says, When eating, think of eating. Are these two approaches so different? Is not Jesus our food? Is not every food symbol of the Eucharist? Is not God present in all we eat? Is not every action of ours an act of faith? Do what you do, and eat when you eat. Jesus is with you.
Anthony de Mello, in Carlos G. Valles, Mastering Sadhana, New York: Doubleday, 1988, p. 99.
Through these visible re-enactments, God's grace is awakening and empowering our participation in the life of Christ. We are born in Christ in baptism, and through Holy Communion we are nurtured, sustained, and, it is hoped, eventually sanctified (made mature in holy living) in Christ...
The sacraments presuppose that God has met us in history and that this meeting calls us to regular recollection and re-enactment in order to experience God's real presence in our midst. The grace of God is offered to us in and through these sacraments in a way that we cannot grasp by our own moral efforts. Protestants revolted against what they perceived to be superstitions of medieval penance and sacramentalism. Yet never do the Protestant confessions lose sight of the basic idea that grace is being offered, and, by faith, communicated to the believer in baptism and Holy Communion by Christ's own ordinance. They are means of grace.
Thomas Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983, pp. 106-107.
[The early church fathers Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Cyprian, Augustine, Ambrose, Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom etc.] thought in terms of one sacrament - one visible, tangible means by which we are brought to God. That means is Jesus Christ. He is the sacrament par excellence. The fathers never argued for salvation by the sacraments. Rather, the sacraments of water and bread and wine, they said, are the visible, tangible signs of Christ's saving action.
Robert E. Webber, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals are Attracted to the Liturgical Church, Waco, Texas, 1985, p.48.
Baptism consists of getting dunked or sprinkled. Which technique is used matters about as much as whether you pray kneeling or standing on your head. Dunking is a better symbol, however. Going under symbolises the end of everything about your life that is less than human. Coming up again symbolises the beginning in you of something strange and new and hopeful. You can breathe again.
Question: How about infant baptism? Shouldn't you wait until the child grows up enough to know what's going on?
Answer: If you don't think there is as much of the less-than-human in an infant as there is in anybody else, you have lost touch with reality.
When it comes to the forgiving and transforming love of God, one wonders if the six-week-old screecher knows all that much less than the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London: Collins, 1973, p.5-6.
The differences between infant and believers' baptism become less sharp when it is recognized that both forms of baptism embody God's own initiative in Christ and express a response of faith made within the believing community... The practice of infant baptism emphasizes the corporate faith and the faith which the child shares with its parents... The practice of believer's baptism emphasizes the explicit confession of the person who responds to the grace of God in and through the community of faith and who seeks baptism... In some churches which unite both infant-baptist and believer-baptist traditions, it has been possible to regard as equivalent alternatives for entry into the Church both a pattern whereby baptism in infancy is followed by a later profession of faith and a pattern whereby believer baptism follows upon a presentation and blessing in infancy. This example invites other churches to decide whether they, too, could not recognize equivalent alternatives...
Commentary (12) on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper No. 111, World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1982, p. 5.
What the Church of England does not do, but any of the Baptist Churches do, is to administer an adult rite to those already previously baptized, and it is that principle which distinguishes between the two denominational traditions and not the principle as to whether adults should be baptized or not. All Christians are agreed that adults who come to faith in Christ and have not been baptized should then be baptized.
Submersion or dipping is the Church of England's first and preferred option. Every candidate ought to be shown that this option is not only open to him or her, but is the Church of England's preferred option... It is an 'option' - not a necessity - and its usefulness and desirability must be worked out between minister and candidates on each occasion, and it is not absurd to have one font or baptismal tank with some candidates undergoing dipping and others receiving pouring (just as adult and infant candidates may also be mixed together, though that is not necessarily to imply that only adults should be submerged, or only infants have water poured on them).
Colin Buchanan, Adult Baptisms, Bramcote Notts: Grove Books, 1985, pp. 4, 20.
The presence of Christ in the ordinary events of our lives and his presence in the sacraments are not in opposition to each other. In the sacraments we celebrate in a special ritual way the love of Christ we experience in our lives. In turn, these celebrations help us become more aware of the presence of Christ in all our human experiences...
The sacraments are external realities that first touch our senses. Through the messages that reach and get through our senses Christ 'speaks' and 'touches' the depths of our being... [But] if we have not had happy, enriching experiences of breaking and sharing authentic bread around a table of love, then how can that sign speak to us at Eucharist? If the celebration of the Eucharist obscures as much as possible the sign of a shared meal (an altar instead of a table, people scattered in a large building rather than gathered in an intimate community, tasteless wafers instead of loaves of wholemeal bread) is not the experience of Christ in the meal sacrifice diminished accordingly?
William P. Roberts, 'New Riches in Old Signs' in Praying, Kansas, No. 12, 1985, pp. 11, 12.
The road from the Last Supper in the Upper Room on the night when Jesus was betrayed to modern eucharistic faith and practice in the Christian church has been long, tortuous and diverse. Along it, Christians have been persecuted by the State and by each other. Sometimes they have worshipped in joyful assurance of their Lord's presence and in confident expectation of his triumphant return. Sometimes Christ's presence in the sacrament has been hidden and distorted by magic and superstition. Sometimes, great Christians have struggled with lofty words to explain and lay hold of the sublime truths conveyed in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Often Christian understanding has been partial and shallow. After centuries of neglect many Protestant Christians are rediscovering the importance and centrality of the Eucharist in worship. After centuries of suspicion many Catholics and Protestants are feeling the urge to break bread together again, and to heal the rifts which have divided them for so long.
Donald Bridge and David Phypers, The Meal That Unites?, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1981, p. 166.
An increasing number of Christians feel that a united communion service is the most expressive demonstration of true Christian unity, since it means... we welcome to the Lord's Table those whom we believe Christ has received even though we may have differing views on such matters as church order.
To practise 'open communion' is not to deny real and meaningful denominational differences, but it is to recognize that churches other than one's own are also part of the body of Christ. The invitation to partake should surely be extended to all true believers and the onus thereafter is upon the individuals concerned.
Gilbert W. Kirby, Too Hot to Handle, London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1978, p. 36.
To eat this particular meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic humanness, which involves our need not just for food but for each other. I need you to help fill my emptiness just as you need me to help fill yours. As for the emptiness that's still left over, well we're in it together, or it in us. Maybe it's most of what makes us human and makes us brothers.
The next time you walk down the street, take a good look at every face you pass and in your mind say, Christ died for you. That girl. That slob. That phoney. That crook. That saint. That damned fool. Christ died for you. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London: Collins, 1973, p.53.
Breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death which gives eternal life in Jesus Christ.
Irenaeus, quoted in Margaret Pepper (ed.), The Pan Dictionary of Religious Quotations, London: Pan Books, 1989, p. 166.
O sacred feast in which we partake of Christ: his sufferings are remembered, our minds are filled with his grace and we receive a pledge of the glory that is to be ours.
Antiphon from the Vespers of Corpus Christi in Tony Kelly, Touching the Infinite, Blackburn: Collins Dove, 1991, p.129.
Father accept us, as we offer and present ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a holy and living sacrifice; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be all honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Alternative Great Prayer of Thanksgiving B, Uniting in Worship, Melbourne: Uniting Church Press, 1988, p. 108
O God, by your word and Spirit bless and sanctify [the] bread and [the] wine, that they may be for us the communion of the body and blood of Christ, and that he may ever live in us and we in him.
Jesus, you are the bread of life; those who come to you will never be hungry; those who believe in you will never thirst. You are the living bread from heaven; the bread you give us is your own flesh, and you give it for the life of the world.
All who eat your flesh and drink your blood live in you and you in them; for your flesh is the food we need, your blood is our salvation; all who eat your flesh and drink your blood have eternal life.
Look to Jesus in the wilderness, breaking bread and feeding the multitude.
A New Zealand Prayer Book, Auckland: Collins, 1989, p.124.
Thou art thyself both he who offers and he who is offered, he who receives and he who is distributed.
Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, quoted in Margaret Pepper (ed.), The Pan Dictionary of Religious Quotations, London: Pan Books, 1989, p. 166.
Lord, grant that your faithful people may continually desire to relive the mystery of the Eucharist and so be born to lead a new life. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Daily Mass Book, Brisbane: The Liturgical Commission, 1990, p.38.
Grant, O Lord that I may receive your precious body and blood to make me holy, to enlighten and strengthen me, to ease the burden of my many sins, to protect me from the traps of the devil, to overcome my sinful and evil habits, to subdue my wayward urges, to help me to live your commandments, to increase in me your divine life, to bring me into your kingdom.
John Chrysostom, cited in Praying with the Saints, Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1989, p.49-50.
A Benediction: May God Almighty bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord: In the name of Christ. Amen.