Sally from RevGalBlogPals writes:
So I’d like to ask you some simple questions about the sacraments:
1. What does the Lord’s supper/ Eucharist mean to you?
The Lord’s Supper is a time and place where the separation between earth and heavenly places can be very thin. Because I am a Protestant “mutt” there are times that the specifics of “the way WE do it” are just not that important to me. (This comes from growing and learning in all flavors of Christianity, from Congregation to Presbyterian to Baptist to Lutheran to nondenominational!) However it is celebrated (and with what words, altar acoutrements and so on) is therefore not locked in some theological strongbox. But gathering in the Name of Christ, to celebrate the sacrifice of our risen Savior, now THAT I love!
One Lord’s Supper celebration which will always be in my heart was in a small town in the Plateau State of Nigeria. I was there as a short-term missionary, learning and following others (nationals and westerners) around a circuit of churches. In one small town, the church there decided that we MUST have Communion at the service since the “missionaries” were there. They truly wanted to welcome us into their fellowship and their worship. There was nothing in the church to prepare for the Communion time, so someone ran to the little town store and purchased the beverage and bread-like elements. These were reverentially placed in the chalice and paten, covered with lovely batiked cloths, and placed on the altar. Imagine my surprise when I was offered a Planter’s cheese ball and a drink of (warm) orange soda. I kept my composure, went back to my seat and prayed… and realized that it has never been about the matzos and juice/wine. It’s never been about the words. It’s been about the fellowship gathered around the Lord’s Table.
Another memorable moment was the first time that I led Communion, from the consecration to the distribution of the elements, at my ordination. It remains, still, a joyous thing to look into the eyes of God’s people and tell them, one by one, “the Body of Christ,” “the Cup of salvation.”
2. How important is preparation for this, and what form does it take?
Well, since I shared these stories, I guess you could say that I’ve become very flexible. If someone wants to make the bread, then I’m happy to let them (as long as it doesn’t taste like tire rubber as it did with one overly enthusiastic baker’s offering!) Or if it’s a nice large loaf of Hawaiian bread. Or round wafers. Or little cubes. (True story: one church we attended, my mom took turns with other women buying store bread and cutting off the crusts to make the bread cubes for Communion. She saved the crusts and we had them as stuffing at dinner one night… why not?) I think it is important to reflect and prepare it with prayer, and to offer it with the same care. I’m really NOT into “hey guys, let’s have this Jesus Table time now” that is the awful way I’ve heard the overly-casual young minister lead Communion. One word: ew.
3. What does baptism mean to you?
You know, at one point in my Christian life, I was quite dogmatic about this. I was christened as a baby, baptized as a 13 year old when confirmed in the Presbyterian church, and then “triple-dipped” when I started attending a Brethren church. (They believe that the word “AND” requires a dip for each part of the Trinity.) But now? Here again I’m very ecumenical. Maybe it’s the hazard of being a chaplain. For those families who want credobaptism I am more than willing to “christen” or “bless” their babies. For those who are pedobaptists, I will add water. 🙂 Both are a sign and a seal of blessing, of commitment by families (and the Church) to love and compassionately shepherd children into their roles in the greater Kingdom work. I wouldn’t trade my baptism experience (both of them) but I don’t insist it be done in a “thus says the Lord” sort of way. And I am sure that there are people who will put me on the rack for not following their jot and tittle. As some say, ‘whatevs.’
4. How important is preparation for baptism and what form does it take?
I think it is important to know why you are doing it, either for someone smaller than you, or for yourself. To understand what is also does NOT do is a good thing, too. If we could see with “Spirit eyes” might be see a shade of light blue glow over those baptized? Um. Probably not. But there is a sense that you have engaged in something which is holy, and special, and, again, to be done in community.
When I’ve baptized the smallest ones in the NICU as a sign and seal for their parents, it is mostly to offer them the comforting words of faith and hope, and to give them over to the Lord, whose they are most assuredly first and last. For some families, it is much more – and I usually ask them to share with me what they want and believe should happen. And I will structure my words accordingly. And there have been times when I can not read the words through my tears as my super-sized thumb traces the sign of the cross with sterile saline on their fragile foreheads. Those have been the holiest of moments, despite the beeps and whirring machinery. And in those moments, again earth and heaven touch, ever so gently.
5. A quote/ poem/ song that brings you before God in a sacramental way, and helps you to engage at a deeper level…
Ah! I have a bunch…
First, Alfred Lloyd Tennyson
The baby new to earth and sky,
What time his tender palm is prest
Against the circle of the breast,
Has never thought that “this is I”:
But as he grows he gathers much,
And learns the use of “I,” and “me,”
And finds “I am not what I see,
And other than the things I touch.”
So rounds he to a separate mind
From whence clear memory may begin,
As thro’ the frame that binds him in
His isolation grows defined.
This use may lie in blood and breath
Which else were fruitless of their due,
Had man to learn himself anew
Beyond the second birth of Death.
Let’s start with Pat Matheny’s Estupenda Graca
Then Yiruma’s A River Flows in You
And contemporary Christian Matt Maher’s Remembrance
One that comes from the Latin liturgy (“Sursum corda” is the opening lines of the Eucharistic prayer: “Lift up your hearts”) by Franz Liszt.
I offer this photograph. It was taken earlier this month on the Oregon coast as we said good-bye to my brother-in-law, Mike… and the poem flowed as I reflected on the experience shared with my family.
Blessed be those times when earth and sky meet…