Sacraments in the church are offered as an outward expression of inward spiritual realities. Baptism and Communion are two of the most common. Some denominations focus on the grace that is given by sacraments. Whatever you believe about sacraments, the idea that they are offered as gifts of love for God is vital to experiencing their true value to the spiritual life.
Sadly, religious practices can become a ritual rather than a meaningful experience. Ritual demeans the purpose that Jesus intended. I read somewhere that sacraments are like giving God a kiss. This statement has stayed with me for weeks. What a beautiful description of the intention of baptism, communion (Eucharist), confession, marriage, ordination, praying for the sick, etc. Kissing God by following His instructions from the heart.
When it comes to sacraments, the heart matters. I’m drawing attention to this because I know it took time for me to recognize the significance of these experiences. I barely remember my baptism except for the fact that it was done on a cold March evening and in contrast the water was extremely warm. I was seven years old. My mother wrote the date that I accepted Jesus in my heart—February 6, 1968, and the date of my baptism, March 6, 1968, in my Bible. I don’t remember the first time I took communion after that. Yet, I do remember that before March 6, 1968,
I thought it was very unfair that the communion plate was passed over me while my older brother and sister were able to partake. My mom explained that I had to make a decision before I joined into the snacking in church, as I saw it. Once I got to have it, I think my longing for something substantive to eat was unfilled. Although I participated hundreds of times in communion, my connection to the love of God took a long time to develop. I remember in college watching a woman cry as she accepted communion. I looked puzzled at her friend, who explained that some people are moved emotionally by what Jesus has done. I never witnessed anyone feeling emotional about this act before.
Kissing God through these sacraments was very far from my heart. The idea of sacraments as a kiss for God has grown through the years of knowing Him better and experiencing Him more fully in my life. Although there is only one baptism, I see the beauty of my own baptism more beautifully when I participate in the baptisms of others. I resonate with their decision to believe that Jesus is their Lord and to come to the waters of baptism in obedience and in representation that they have been buried with Christ and raised to walk in newness of life with Him. The communion table is never received without acknowledgment of my personal sins that made the shedding of Christ’s blood and His body crucified on the cross necessary for me. I become overwhelmed by the love of God, so, yes, this is a kiss to drink and eat as He instructed. Such a small gesture on my part, celebrating the most powerful act in all the universe. My puny effort is wanted and received in joy by God.
I now believe that sacraments were prescribed by God to be a chance for us to connect to the power of His love. When experienced in this manner they become a yearning or longing in our souls. They are a chance to reconnect to God’s work of salvation in our lives and recognize the power of our personal transformation. Another statement I will not forget from the mouth of a priest during a baptism is when she said, “Baptism is saying that we are better than we are!”
These sacraments of the church are strange to onlookers but deeply meaningful to us who recognize that God is doing a great work of salvation in our own souls. Sacraments call us to meet together in love and gratitude.