Sacraments as Worship
What is worship? What causes us to worship? What is it that brings us to a place where it feels appropriate and right to worship our Triune God? What happens when we worship? I would suggest that through the sacraments we are brought to a place where authentic worship can be and should be experienced.
Worship is God’s drawing of our minds to His faithfulness and His recommitment to us as God’s people. James B. Torrance defines Christian worship as “our participation through the Spirit in the Son's communion with the Father, in his vicarious life of worship and intercession.” In other words Christian worship happens when the Spirit brings us into the relationship between God, the Son and God the Father. We get to enter into Christ’s relationship with God; a holier and more perfect relationship than we could ever imagine. And this relationship is only possible through the power of the Spirit and the work of the Son and the grace given from the Father. This welcoming and remembering is precisely what happens when we participate together in the sacraments.
Through the sacraments, God the Spirit remembers to us the sacrifice of Christ, Who it is we were created to worship, and who we are in light of these events. The sacraments are a tangible way to experience the love of God. In the ordinary things created by God, He draws us nearer to Him while continually calling our attention to Christ’s sacrifice. “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.” Worship is shaping us and being shaped in us when we participate in the sacraments; when we experience the grace poured out on us through them, we have no option but to give the glory to God.
The sacraments are joyous events and are commanded to us for the betterment of our lives. Just as worship is commanded and enabled by God and for our benefit, the sacraments are commanded and enabled by Christ and for our benefit. Baptism welcomes us into the family of God; this fact alone is enough to bring immense joy to our hearts. But God doesn’t stop there. The gift of the Lord’s Supper is given to continually remind us of our baptism and nourish our souls as we “meet the risen Lord and…enter with him into the bridal chamber.” The sacraments at their core are instruments to be used to display the grace of God, experience God at a deep level, and produce worship in our hearts. The forgiveness and grace shown in the sacraments display God’s love and enable us to be “alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
“Frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper, along with frequent mention of the significance of baptism, help to keep the church focused on the central message of the Gospel.” The truths given in the sacraments shape our worshipping lives and community.
Sacraments as Identity
Who are you? What things in your life do you use to define yourself? Do you let the hardships in this life define you? Have you ever viewed partaking in the sacraments as a way of God’s giving and remembering to you your true identity?
The sacraments are mysterious things; they are the grace of God shown to us in physical ways. Sacraments are ways God uses “ordinary stuff” to accomplish an “extraordinary end.” There have been many times I have partaken in, and viewed, the sacraments without a second thought to the reasoning behind them. Understanding the sacraments completely changed the way that I partake in them. While we participate in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, with the Spirit, God redefines our identity and remembers to us Who it is we worship and who we are in light of the One we worship. In fact, our identity is established, transformed and renewed by God through the sacraments.
In the Old Testament, the sign of circumcision was given to the Israelites as a sign that they are part of God’s family. With the death and rising of Christ, the need for a purely physical sign, circumcision, is no longer necessary. Baptism, though physical, is administered through the power of the Holy Spirit and therefore has certain spirituality to it. It is the new sign that we are adopted into God’s family. With baptism we are “part of a new community, a new family, a new body.” “Baptism joins us to the death of Christ.” Being joined to Christ in His death, we are also joined to Him in His resurrection; our old selves are gone and we rise up as new beings with a new identity.
After we have been joined together with the body of Christ through baptism, we are welcomed to be reunited with the “Risen Lord and his people at the Table.” In sharing the Lord’s Supper with God’s people, God reminds to us the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Christ is the bread of heaven, his blood the true drink. In partaking of the Lord’s Supper we are “becoming part of him and his risen life.”
There should be a great sense of joy that sweeps over you when you realize what happens through the sacraments. Through the Spirit we are adopted into God’s family, united with Christ and continually nourished by Christ’s body. Both sacraments are to be participated in in community. They both specifically point to community, that is, our common union with God Triune and our common union with every member of the body of Christ. They are to be celebrated with Christ’s body, who is your family, with great joy.
To sum up what we’ve discussed: who are you in light of the sacraments? You are without identity before the sacraments. By the grace of God, after the sacraments, you are given the most glorious identity of all. You are a child of the One True King, you’ve been saved by the sacrifice of Christ, you’ve been changed into a new creation, and you’ve been set free from the bonds of sin and death.
Sacraments as a Calling
Now that we have seen how the sacraments bring our hearts to worship and give us a new identity, what are the new implications? What’s the next step for us as children of God, died and raised with Christ?
As Christians in the family of God we are now expected to participate in the continued work of Christ. Now this word ‘expected’ seems to be a harsh word riddled with legalistic connotation. However, with a correct view of the sacraments this word becomes so natural and eventually turns into ‘overjoyed.’ We must first understand that we are not called to continue the mission and work of Christ by our own strength. The Spirit works in us enabling us to will and to work for God’s good pleasure. Jesus told His disciples if we love Him we will keep His commandments; how is it that we can even come to love Him and eventually obey His commandments?
Through the participation in the Lord’s Supper we are given the means to obey through the continual nourishment of our bodies and souls. This nourishment only comes available after the participation in baptism. According to The Worship Sourcebook baptism is “a sign of the washing away of sin, a sign of our union with Jesus’ death and resurrection, a sign of the promise of new birth in Christ, a sign of incorporation in the church, a sign of the promise of the Holy Spirit and a sign of the covenant kingdom of God.”
In churches today, baptism seems to focus mainly on the promise of the biological family and the church family in their role in raising and coming alongside the child, or adult, being baptized. Though this is an important aspect of baptism, joining the family of God, it is so much more than that. As stated above, baptism is a sign of incorporation in the church.
As someone who has been baptized I have been joined together to the Church and it is my privilege to be active in the life of the church, both inside and outside of the walls of the church building. God pours out His grace upon us through the sacraments and remembers to us the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the unbelievable action done to bring God’s people back to His side. This grace is what enables us to live our calling. This grace compels us to live for God and God alone. This grace strikes joy into the deepest part of our souls. This joy can only be expressed through living for Jesus and spreading the good news to the surrounding areas. We go out as Jesus’ disciples and then return back to our church body. Once we reencounter Christ and are fed at the table we become refreshed and encouraged once more.
God calls us to Himself, draws us to Himself, nourishes us with the body and blood of Christ, makes us a new creation and pours His grace out for us. All of this is seen through the gracious giving of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.