Sacraments – simply put
There are a few ways of talking about the sacraments. In Lutheran circles (as with some other mainline denominations), the sacraments are two: baptism and communion. We talk of baptism and communion as each being “a means of grace.” That is, we experience God’s grace in a ritualistic and tangible way in the sacraments.
A sacrament might also be described as an earthly element combined with a divine command. …so, Baptism uses the earthly element of water and is combined with the divine command “go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 28). And, Communion uses the earthly elements of bread and wine (or wheat and grapes) and the divine command “do this in remembrance of me” (from Luke’s gospel, chapter 22).
As a pastor, I am ordained into a ministry of “Word and Sacrament.” For good order (hence, ordain or ordination), our tradition expects certain things of our leaders so that the tradition is carried out well – so pastors preside at the sacraments (with exceptions, of course, in case of emergency or such).
In a Lutheran understanding of Baptism, we baptize infants because we believe that, even before anyone has done anything – good or bad – God loves them. It’s a symbol of God’s love that stays with a person, so it does not get repeated (however, we affirm our baptism again and again). We also believe that God’s love is not conditional on baptism, but the ritual gives us opportunity to celebrate God’s love as shown in the person’s life – and it’s an occasion to remember each year, as well (like a birthday!).
In a Lutheran understanding of Communion, we offer bread and wine to those who are drawn to community and to God, particularly as they may feel welcomed in the story of Jesus. In many ways, Communion is a living out of what we believe about God’s generosity and hospitality – even though it is one loaf, even though it is one cup, all receive from it. All receive enough, not too much or too little – enough for the journey. And there is no distinction – whether rich or poor, whether old or young – all receive in the same way. We believe that Jesus is present in, with, and under the elements. We receive the “cup of life” as a symbol of Jesus’ life poured out for us, and we, too, are to give our lives in living for others – for the common good – as well.
In this month of June, I’m mindful that young people are completing a year of studies. In the church, some are being “confirmed.” This means that they have gone through a course of study to learn about the basics of the faith, and are now affirming their Christian faith. For many, this means that they have had a chance to learn about the sacraments, and can now invite others into faithful living. May they, and we, be models of grace-filled living in all we do!