In my last blog post in this series, we talked about the Sermon, which is God’s Word proclaimed to the people. Every good sermon preaches the gospel—the good news of how God has saved us from our sin and misery through the shed blood of Christ. Having heard the gospel, now we illustrate it and take it in, as it were, through the Lord’s Supper. Also called Holy Communion, this sacrament means many things. It nourishes us spiritually for the Christian life. It unifies us as a body of Christ, the church. It assures us that we share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross. Communion is more than just about remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is a sign and seal of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. So that as we eat the bread and wine, we are assured that Jesus died for us too, and that our sins are truly forgiven. As the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism say, “As surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely his blood was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross.” So we receive an assurance of our salvation through this sacred meal. Perhaps that is more than enough. But I like how Professor Jamie Smith describes this meal as having “supper with the King” (Desiring the Kingdom [Baker Academic], 197). It is a reminder that one day we will eat another meal with the risen and reigning Lord: the wedding feast of the Lamb. As Jesus says to the disciples at his Last Supper with them: “For I tell you that I will not eat again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:16) How blessed we are that God uses the basic stuff of earth—bread and wine—to assures us of the gospel and nourish us unto salvation. How blessed we are to have a King that invites us to eat with him at his table, where we are formed spiritually for his kingdom service, and assured that we belong to him. So let us lift up our hearts to the Lord through the sacrament of Communion.
Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? I generally don’t make any formal resolutions, but I tend to be more reflective in January. How was my last year with the Lord? What is God calling me to do in the New Year? Are there any changes I need to make to facilitate my spiritual growth? These are the kind of questions I ask myself in January (and often in August, before the fall ministry season begins). And as I reflect on them, some new ideas and directions often emerge. And the one that has surfaced for me this year is based on a book I read at the end of last year by Michael Horton called, Ordinary (Zondervan, 2014). Horton is concerned that we North American Christians are always looking for the next big thing, when God most often uses the ordinary things to grow us spiritually and change the world. What sort of ordinary things? Things like the weekly communal worship service; daily Bible reading; the regular administration of the Sacraments; loving our neighbors. He argues that God prefers to use the ordinary means of grace, like the spiritual practices mentioned above, to form our faith. But being “ordinary” is not popular today, so it takes a lot of courage to become an ordinary Christian. Our culture celebrates the extraordinary (i.e., the beautiful model; the successful business person; the talented athlete, etc.). But as Horton argues, God most often works through ordinary things to change us. Christmas provides a prime example: God becoming human through Christ. The irony is that as we seek to be “ordinary Christians” God uses us to do extraordinary things, like give hope to the hopeless. So, if I had to pick a New Year’s Resolution, I would say that it is to be an “ordinary Christian.” I wonder what would happen if we all decided to become ordinary Christians this year? . . . Care to join me?
I’ve been thinking a lot about baptism lately. In part, because of the baptisms that will occur this Sunday (July 12), but also because I’m reading a book on the sacraments by Leonard Vander Zee called, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (IVP Academic, 2004). The longer I follow Jesus, the more important the sacraments become. It wasn’t always that way for me. I grew up in a tradition that viewed the Lord’s Supper as simply a memorial feast and baptism as a profession of faith. Both views are right in regards to the Communion and baptism, but that’s not the whole story. “As the New Testament unfolds the meaning of baptism, it teaches us that baptism is a single celebration that conveys several layers of meaning. It is at once a sign of the washing away of sin (Acts 2:28; 22:16), a sign of our union with Jesus’ death and resurrection (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12), a sign of the promise of the new birth in Christ (1 Pet. 3:21-22), a sign of the incorporation into the one, universal church (Eph. 4:5; 1 Cor. 1:13; 12:13), and a sign of the covenant and kingdom of God (Eph. 1:13; Col. 2:11) (“Affirming Baptism and Forming Faith” in the CRC Agenda for Synod, 2011). All of these images come out when a person is baptized, making this ritual a powerful and moving event. Whether it is an infant or an adult, God says to the baptized person, just like he said to Jesus on his own baptism: “You are my son/daughter, with you I am well pleased.” I pray that whenever you witness a baptism, you will remember your own baptism, and feel God’s love.