by Rick StawarzChurch of the Cross pastoral staff recently led adult education classes teaching about the basics of Anglicanism. The classes used the book “The Anglican Way“ by Thomas McKenzie as a starting point. The classes were: October 5 – The Various Streams of Anglican Identity October 12 – The Roots of Anglicanism October 19 – Anglican Spirituality and the Church Year November 2 – Anglican Sacraments
One of the offenses of the Christian faith is that we believe God uses things like dirt, flesh, water, animals, and food to communicate things like his eternal wisdom, beauty, and love. The epitome of this is the God-man, Jesus Christ.
Jesus commanded his church to take up two practices which convey his grace in very special ways. Believers are welcomed into the family of God through baptism and continually nourished in their faith through communion. These two acts are called sacraments, and they are where we see God at work in very tangible ways. Everyday things which we can touch, smell, and taste become vessels of God’s nourishing presence. As Thomas McKenzie says, the sacraments are “an encounter between God and his people through something material” (p 149).
Entire denominations have been shaped by their view of the sacraments. One’s view of how God moves in baptism and eucharist has tremendous implications in other parts of the Christian life. McKenzie’s book goes into further detail, and he even lists several additional resources for those especially curious. For now, we will explore just a brief overview of the two sacraments.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus himself was baptized as an act of obedience to the Father, and he commands us to do likewise. Baptism harkens back to the cleansing waters of the flood from Noah’s day, the Israelites passing through the Red Sea in order to escape Pharaoh, and their passing again through the Jordan River into the Promised Land. God uses water to convey his power to cleanse us from sin and place us in a new life.
We believe that, like circumcision in the Old Testament, baptism is God’s way of marking New Testament believers as his own. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit, who now dwells within us as a guide and comforter.
“‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh'” (John 6:51). At minimum, all Christians agree that when we eat the bread and drink the wine we are supposed to remember the life and work of Christ. Remembering is a strong theme throughout the Bible. God knows how forgetful we are, and when we forget the faithfulness of God, we act in selfish, independent ways. So remembering Christ’s work on the cross is a big deal. It keeps us focused.
Anglicans stand with the majority of Christianity and believe that Christ is really and spiritually present in the bread and wine. When the elements are consecrated, Christ dwells in and among them; so that when believers — through faith — partake, they are spiritually nourished by Christ himself.
This ought to encourage believers because at the table, we are dining with Jesus. We are touched, fed, and healed by his presence. Furthermore, this is something which all Christians do. It is a family meal involving believers from all ages and from across the globe. When we eat the body and blood of Christ, we declare our membership in the full body of Christ who will someday feast together at the great heavenly banquet.
Works of God
Both baptism and eucharist are acts which God does to us. We have nothing to offer, but instead receive what God has given to us. In baptism, it is the down-payment of the Holy Spirit, who will someday eradicate all sin from our lives. In eucharist, it is the sustenance of Jesus, who will someday welcome us into everlasting kingdom. Both these sacraments employ regular items to convey eternal meaning and grace.