Here is the next installment of my little reflection series on my six years of theological study in the seminary context. I have also, of course, been influenced in my writing by ministry experience within two different faith communities.
My focus here is on the two most important Sacraments for Christians: baptism and communion.
Let’s face it. We live in a transient world.
My iPhone was slated to be out of date about a year from the date of its release. Apple’s calendar for new products moves almost as fast as seasonal fashion updates. Interior design may be a bit slower, but pretty much everything in our culture is rapidly shifting.
Undeniably, this has psychological consequences.
When we move so quickly, we miss out on things. Personally, I think tattoo culture grows out of this. Not going to lie; I love tattoos. Done right, they’re just so cool.
But why is it that we desire tattoos?
I’d like to make the case that part of our [and my] interest in the permanency of tattoos is on account of the impermanence of other fixed realities in the world. We’re always going to be transitioning to a different area, moving into a new friend group, trying a new app, purchasing a new piece of technology.
Baptism is altogether different than all of this.
Communion is also entirely unique.
I’ll take a stab at explaining. Water is ubiquitous, at least in the Midwest. We in the West usually don’t turn on our faucets each day wondering whether there is enough water to push through and give us clean hands or a cold drink.
We are not disquieted by an evening sip of red wine. Neither are we overwhelmed by a quick sandwich at lunchtime.
But in the context of Christian worship, our senses are opened to new realities when we witness baptism and communion. Let me talk about why this is the case.
Water cleanses, purifies, refreshes, and sustains. Jesus, according to Scripture, is living water.
Physical water points us to the living reality that we call God.
The waters wrapping the earth are powerful indeed. Scientists tell us the oceans slowly circulate, and every 500 years, like a giant game of tag, they all trade places. Deepest waters from the North Atlantic collect in an enormous basin as cold, salty water from Greenland and Norway sinks. This pushes the warmer waters south, between the Americas to the West and Europe and Africa to the East, until it hits the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which pushes the water east, where it circulates. The Pacific contributes greatly to the drama, adding sun-warmed water that winds up back in the North Atlantic.
How many glasses of water have I drunk over the years whose molecules once also nourished Jesus during his time on earth? Maybe those lively atoms helped to wash him in the more ancient Jordan River as he emerged from his own baptism or quenched the thirst of the disciples as they shared a Thursday evening meal with Jesus before his death.
When I think about my own experience of baptism, it was the muddy waters of the Muskegon River coursing Westward out of Houghton Lake and on to Lake Michigan that cleansed me. The people who had spiritually nurtured me during my earlier years sang hymns in the same sun that warmed Saint Augustine as he wrote and guided a community in North Africa. There is a deep spiritual connectedness to which the Sacraments, communion and baptism, point.
Paul says in baptism we are buried with Christ, then raised with him. We often think of this in a profound spiritual sense, and we are right to think this way. But in the Sacraments we also experience physically the connection we have with him. If baptism and communion were two arms, I would picture them holding with one hand on the physical world, and with the other holding the hand of Jesus incarnate. Somehow the wind of the Holy Spirit would blow, and the presence of the Father would be tangibly felt.
When we see these actions in the church, may our imaginations soar.
My imagination soared when my wife and I took our son, Silas, to be baptized. At three months, we as a church placed him gently at the feet of God, knowing we cannot open his eyes to see God on our own, but that we can do our best show him the path.
Over his wide open blueberry eyes, our pastor’s tender hand imprinted a tiny cross that dripped gently across his smooth forehead.
And I wondered who had been baptized in that same water. John Wesley? Bonaventure? Saint James? Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
For sure, our precious Silas Everett Videtich. May he forever live into that sacramental reality.