The word “sacrament” used to scare me. Funny what you assume when you know so little about something. I thought sacraments were sure proof that people didn’t understand God’s grace, that they had to be ritualistic in order to get God’s attention. For years I missed the beautiful theology that stands behind the sacraments—a theology that teaches us that God values and even chooses to meet with us in the physicality of this world. In grace…
God chooses to send his Spirit upon us in the waters of baptism.
God chooses to nourish us with his Son in the bread and wine of communion.
God chooses to comfort and heal us in the anointing of oil.
God chooses to empower us for service in the laying on of hands.
What wonderful gifts these sacraments are to us! Not because they’re magical, not because they’re automatic formulas for spiritual wholeness, but because when we receive the sacraments in faith, God promises to show up, to make himself known to us in deep and unexpected ways.
As a minister, I have the privilege of administering the sacraments to others, being allowed to share in their sacred moments. I think of distributing the bread this past Easter Sunday. As I approached each individual, I would hold up a round wafer, look the person in the eyes, and declare, “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, keep you in everlasting life,” and then I would place the bread in the person’s open hands. At times I become so overwhelmed by the presence of God in these powerful exchanges that I can barely even speak; the words get stuck in my throat. It is in these moments that I know heaven and earth are overlapping; Christ is present among us in a way he is not otherwise.
Or I think of the privilege of being called to anoint someone with oil before or after a surgery. Family is gathered around, we read a passage of Scripture, and then we all lay hands on the person. I dip by thumb in oil and then make the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead, saying, “I anoint you with oil in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” after which we pray for the inward anointing of the Spirit. Often the room is so heavy with the divine that it takes our breath away. God is present, reminding us of his love and power to restore.
Or I think back to when I baptized my children, a day permanently lodged in my memory. Friends and family stand in the pews, stretching in for a closer look. The bishop and Father Chuck are next to the font. A prayer is said over the water: “We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.” And then with three pours over the little one’s head, I say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I’m caught in a sacred moment once again, and I don’t want to get out of it. God is here.
Thank you, God, for the sacraments. Thank you for those sacred times when you show up to encourage, comfort, and empower your church. And thanks to all of you who in great humility allow me to administer the sacraments to you, to share in your divine encounters.