This Sunday, my son is getting baptised and our congregation is celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It is a rare opportunity to experience both Sacraments on the same day and therefore it is an occasion to consider how they function together.
The label ‘sacrament’ came from the Latin translation of the Greek word ‘mustérion,’ or ‘mystery’ for us in English. Unfortunately, for most of us, the Sacraments remain too much of a mystery and we miss out on the richness of this gift from God.
The beauty of the Sacraments is that the Spiritual realm converges head on with the material realm. Real water, real bread and real wine (or grape juice!) are used as God ordained elements of blessing.
Having worked as an automotive engineer for eight years, nothing excited me more than seeing the much laboured-over Computer Aided Design come into existence in the first prototype. In the same way, the sacraments materially represent the great non-material realities of God. God’s word in the scriptures are sufficient means of communicating these realities, yet for our sake, he has given us the privilege and joy of experiencing them in material forms.
1 Corinthians 10:1-5 alludes to both baptism and communion as a metaphoric experience of the Israelites in Exodus. Here, Israel’s baptism occurred through the red sea crossing and under the cloud that guided them through the desert. The sea crossing and cloud functioned to define who God’s people were and to display his presence and power to redeem. Additionally, God gave ‘spiritual’ food and drink to them throughout their pilgrimage. This food and drink sustained their bodies. While the manna God provided was sufficient, he graciously went above and beyond to give them quail to reassure them of his provision in their weakness.
The sacraments are to be desired, they distinguish God’s people and display his redemption, presence, provision and promises.
The same occurs in the Lord’s Supper, where the promises of God become visible and our weak faith is reassured that Christ in with us and his death is sufficient for our salvation. The Sacraments provide a visible and material experience, which leaves us in awe of the deeds and promises of God.
However, the Sacraments are like fireworks, having the potential to leave you in awe, they also have the alternate potential to injure. Verse 5 says ‘Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.’ While Israel participated in sacraments, they were not the means of their salvation, for most of them did not match their participation in them with the faith that was required to enter the Promised Land. Thus, as a result, they died in the desert.
Would it have been better for those who died to have remained in Egypt, not receiving the Sacraments at all?
The sacraments are to be desired, they distinguish God’s people and display his redemption, presence, provision and promises. They leaves us in awe, but be careful, like fireworks, they have the potential to injure.
It is not possible to remain unchanged when we participate in the Sacraments.
Luke McSeveny is married to Joanna and has three children. He is an elder at Geelong West Presbyterian Church and is studying theology at PTC.