the outward and visible signs of an inward and invisible grace
“This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Luke 22:19
The United Methodist (UM) Church, along with most Protestant denominations, recognizes two sacraments (sacred or instituted acts of Christ). They are Baptism and Holy Communion (Lord’s Supper). Jesus never asked His disciples to remember His birth, but He did instruct them to remember His death and resurrections. Communion, or The Lord’s Supper, is an object lesson that represents a great spiritual truth for believers. John Wesley – the founder of the Methodist movement – called Holy Communion a means of grace. Indeed, communion is an outward sign of an inward grace. Communion is about:
Thanksgiving: The early Christians broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people (Acts 2:46-47a, NIV). We express joyful thanks for God’s mighty acts throughtout history and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. It conveys our gratitude for the goodness of God and God’s unconditional love for us.
Family: Christians around the world are the gathered community of the faithful – our family. 1Corinthians 10:17 explains that because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Communion is a profound personal experience, but we must not forget that scripture calls “us” to the Table, and not simply “me.”
Remembering: We re-present God’s grace-filled acts in the present so powerfully as to make them truly present now (Luke 22:9; 1Corinthians 11:24-25). Christ is risen and is alive here and now, not just remembered for what was done in the past.
Sacrifice: Communion is a re-presentation, not a repetition, of the sacrifice of Christ. Hebrews 9:26 makes clear that he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrfice of himself. Christ’s atoning life, death, and resurrection make divine grace available to us. We also present ourselves as a living sacrifice in union with Christ (Romans 12:1; 1Peter 2:5) to be used by God in the work of redemption, reconciliation, and justice.
The Holy Spirit: Communion is a vehicle of God’s grace through the action of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). The United Methodist hymnal puts it like this: pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine . . . make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood. By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world . . .
The Final Outcome: Communion has to do with the end of history: the outcome of God’s purpose for the world. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. To pariticipate is to receive a foretaste of the future, a pledge of heaven until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Christ himself looked forward to this occasion and promised the disciples, I wil never again drink of this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).
How Do I Prepare Myself for Holy Communion?
- Self examination: Anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. 1 Corinthians 11:27–28 (NLT)
- Confessing Sins: But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. 1 John 1:9 (CEB)
- Re-commitment: So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Romans 12:1 (The Message)
- Restoring Relationships: Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23–24 (CEB)
Who tells you who you are?
We receive our identity from others, from the expectations of friends and colleagues, from the labels society puts upon us, and from the influence of family. To become Christian is to receive a new identity. You no longer allow others to tell you who you are. Christ now claims you and instructs you. A Christian is one who has “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Baptism celebrates becoming that new person. That is why the church’s celebration begins with putting off the old, renouncing sin and the evil powers of the world, and pledging our loyalty to Christ.
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of evil and will you turn to God (repent) so that you might love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to sacrificially serve him as your Lord, in community with all those who call themselves followers of Jesus?
God Initiates the Covenant
We also believe that in baptism God initiates a covenant with us. The word covenant is a biblical word describing God’s initiative in choosing Israel to be a people with a special mission in the world, and Israel’s response in a life of faithfulness. In the same way, a covenant is an agreement between God and a sinful humanity: Christ offers his saving grace, and we respond with obedience (Acts 2:38). We have been pardoned of the sin which has separated us from God! We are freed from the guilt and penalty of sin and made right with God. Such a work is made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice, and made real in our lives by the work of the Holy Spirit.
God Has Chosen Us
Christians have also understood the baptismal covenant in light of Jesus’ baptism. At Jesus’ baptism, God said: “This is my son.” While Jesus’ relation to God as Son is unique, for Christians baptism means that God has also chosen us as daughters and sons, and knows us intimately as a parent (Matthew 3:17; Colossians 2:11-12).
So the most important things about us, our true identity, is that we are now sons and daughters of God. That is why the introduction to the United Methodist Baptismal Covenant states, “We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit.”
Baptism Is the Door
The introduction also says, “Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are initiated into Christ’s holy church.” Baptism isn’t simply a me thing, but a we thing: baptism welcomes you into a new family of Jesus followers (1Corinthians 12:12-13, 27; Acts 2:42-45)!
From the beginning, baptism has been the door through which one enters a faith community – the church. It was inconceivable to many that one could respond to God’s grace by answering the questions, and affirming one’s faith in Christ and loyalty to the Kingdom, without joining the fellowship of those who are committed to mature in that faith. As the Body of Christ in the world, baptism commissions us to use our gifts to strengthen the church and to transform the world.
Why Baptize Babies?
From the earliest times, children and infants were baptized and included in the church. As scriptural authority for this ancient tradition, some scholars cite Jesus’ words, “Let the little children come to me…for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14).
However, a more consistent argument is that baptism, as a means of grace, signifies God’s initiative in the process of salvation. John Wesley preached prevenient grace, the grace that works in our lives before we are aware of it, bringing us to faith. The baptism of children and their inclusion in the church before they can respond with their own confirmation of faith is a vivid and compelling witness to prevenient grace.
Baptism Is Forever
Because baptism is a sacrament of God’s grace and a covenant that God has initiated, it should not be repeated. However, God’s continuing and patient forgiveness, God’s prevenient grace, will prompt us to renew the commitment first made at our baptism. At such a time, instead of rebaptism, The United Methodist Church offers the ritual for the reaffirmation of baptismal vows, which implies that, while God remains faithful to God’s half of the covenant, we are not always faithful to our promises. Our half of the covenant is to confess Christ as our Savior, trust in his grace, serve him as Lord in the church, and carry out his mission against evil, injustice, and oppression.
Baptism Is the Beginning, Not the End
You may have heard people say “I was baptized Methodist” or
“I was baptized Presbyterian,” which could mean that in baptism they got their identity papers and that was the end of it. But baptism is not the end. It is the beginning of a lifelong journey of faith. It makes no difference whether you were baptized as an adult or as a child; we all start on that journey at baptism (Philiipians 3:10-12).
For the child, the journey begins in the nurturing community of the church, where he or she learns what it means that God loves you. At the appropriate time, the child will make his or her first confession of faith in the ritual the church traditionally calls confirmation. Most often, this is at adolescence or at the time when the person begins to take responsibility for his or her own decisions.
If you experienced God’s grace and were baptized as an adult or received baptism as a child and desire to reaffirm your baptismal vows, baptism still marks the beginning of a journey in the nurturing fellowship of the caring, learning, worshipping, serving congregation.
From A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism
by Mark C. Trotter.
Acts 2:38 (NLT) Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
See also: Romans 6:1-11; Acts 2:36-41; 1Peter 3:21; Ephesians 4:4-7