Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Five: Sacrament...all is holy? OR Theology 101: Sacraments

Sally has gone all theological on us.  She is asking tough questions but absolutely important questions.  

This Friday Five stems from some questions that have been running around my head and heart recently and are squeezing their way out through my blog here and again here

So I'd like to ask you some simple questions about the sacraments:

Sally, I am quite catholic in my understanding of Sacraments.  Signs and symbols are hard for me to detach from reality.  I do not debate the fact/symbol issue anymore because Sacraments have become what they signify.  

I am thankful that Sally is a Methodist and is only asking about the biblical sacraments: baptism and eucharist, rather than the seven catholic sacraments.  But there are always more sacraments (signs of God's presence) than those listed by our various denominational traditions.  For me there is a sacrament is touching the hands of a new baby or the hand of dying person in hospice.  There is sacrament in the love I share with J when  we are laughing over some odd moment of living in community.  There is sacrament in sunsets in Texas or a field of blue bonnets --God signing God's love for me and for the whole world.

1. What does the Lord's supper/ Eucharist mean to you?

The Eucharist is the center of my life.  Period.  It is the reason I became a priest.  It is the most powerful sign of Christ's presence in my life.  For many years after I became a Christian, I was a daily communicant.  Now, I see the need for community as profoundly important to how I want to celebrate or receive Christ's Body and Blood.  Yes, I believe in the Real Presence in the bread and wine.  I don't know how it happens ( I don't subscribe to all the theological paradoxism that many theologians tie us up in) --I don't need to.  I just know that the unity with human and Divine happens most often when I am participating in this mundane sign of eating even tasteless wafers and bad wine.  

It signals to me that God isn't finished with me yet.  It presents me with an ongoing sense of hope for the world.  It allows me to trust in this crazy church (both big C and little c) even though it has betrayed me over and over.  It conjures up within me the stories of prophets and saints and reminds me of how many people over the millennia  have participated in this same act of taking bread, blessing it, breaking it and giving it.  It is standing in that long line that unites me with humanity and at the same time unites me with all the holiness of God.

2. How important is preparation for this, and what form does it take?

I am not so aware of the preparation for the sacrament as it has become so habitual but as I put on vestments, prepare the altar book, recall the prayers I have developed over the years for centering on the liturgy, that there is a bit of a ritual in it.  Periodically I need to talk to others to hear what they understand Holy Communion to be.  I need to claim what it is that I mean by Holy Communion and blog about it.  It keeps me centered on the center of my life.  Even when I am on vacation, I am loath to miss the Eucharist.  It isn't magic.  It is like calling home for ET.  It is where I am rooted.  If I can't find an Episcopal church on a Sunday I have no problem being an anonymous Roman and slipping into Mass.  (I just don't tell the priest who I am.)

In the parish, I try to make it known that I don't want to talk church business before church.  If it is an emergency, that is another matter.  But I try to help the congregation know that if I am going to center them in liturgy, my mind needs to be on the Eucharist before the service.  It is not just the sermon that I try to have before me, but the whole experience so that worship is truly worship.  In my present congregation we have a tremendous group of laity, both adult and youngsters, who takes responsibility for the their own parts so I don't have to worry about acolytes or readers.  They truly see it as their ministry so it is good to be able to trust them so I can immerse myself in the leadership of the service.

3. What does baptism mean to you?

Baptism is the beginning of my relationship with Christ.  It signs that I am part of a community of faith.  It signs membership.  And while I believe that it washes away sins, I am not big on the need to wash away Original Sin since I don't believe it that.    Baptism is the source of all ministry.  All orders: Laity, bishops, priests, deacons find their ministry in the waters that not only cleanses but slakes the thirst for God.  It is Baptism that waters the seeds of faith to make them grow.

But I don't get up tight about who is baptized and who isn't when it come to handing out Communion.  In my old Roman Catholic theology we understood the meaning of "Spiritual Communion"--when some one could not receive the elements of bread and wine, others could receive on their part.  I believe that this applies to Baptism too.  When someone presents themselves for Holy Communion that I know is not baptized or even a member of another faith, I will commune them.  At that moment, I believe that God is doing something within that person that I cannot understand.  I am the same way with little children.  When a child reaches out for the Eucharist, it is time for that child to receive.  We don't need white dresses and veils to denote a child's first communion.  It is when God and humanity have set down at the Table of the Lord.  But I do believe that Baptism is necessary for the individual Christian .  It is the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval of our decision to follow Christ.  It is the public witness of that inward and spiritual grace that God and the individual person are working out salvation in fear and trembling. ( See I have tasted of the Arminen tree too!) Like Eucharist, the sign does confirm what is going on spiritually in the person.  So once baptized--always baptized.  Does it mean that I am saved?  From what?  I don't believe in Hell so I have had quite a bit of problem with Augustine for some time.  Salvation isn't just being promised in the Bye and Bye.  Salvation is the on-going relationship with the God who is both within and transcendent who allows me to know the richness of life.  Baptism calls me to a way of living that witnesses to the love God has for me and frees me from  self-absorption that stultifies life.  Baptism means freedom -- freedom to love, freedom to think and the freedom to serve others in God's name.

4. How important is preparation for baptism and what form does it take?

This depends upon how old they are.  Adult baptism looks more like a confirmation program  because it is an adult decision to be a part of the worshiping.  I have used the whole catecumentate program in Lent with only one person in my career and believe that it was quite successful.   But usually for infants, I gather the parents and godparents and discuss how they can see to the raising the child in the faith.  But I don't worry too much about teaching lots of material--especially about Church.  I am more concerned that they know the stories of God's presence to the people of Israel and the early Church and that it is in church that they can always find Christ's love.  

5. A quote/ poem/ song that brings you before God in a sacramental way, and helps you to engage at a deeper level...

This applies to the US of A too!

William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.


river song said...

Hi, this is truly lovely and thoughtful, thanks!

Maybe this isn't the time and place for me to get angry, but I did my best to write and post a very quick play that took all of 10 minutes to write because it was Friday 5 and now I'm discovering everyone else has been very theological and outlined huge chunks of their sacramental theology (something I've done consistently for the 10 years my main blog has been alive). The eucharist is the center of my life, too... peace!

Sally said...

just lovely, thank you, and we have more in common that fist appears...