Here’s your pop-quiz for today: How many sacraments does The United Methodist Church recognize? You got it: 2 – Baptism and Holy Communion. Enjoy quizzes? Take this one about the UMC’s beliefs about baptism: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/united-methodist-baptism-quiz.
One way we describe sacraments is to say they are those things that Jesus did and commanded us to do. He was baptized (Luke 3:15-22) and he commanded us to baptize (Matthew 28:16-20). He communed and commanded us to – “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:14-23).
Certainly there are many other things Jesus did that he commanded us to do – feed the hungry, care for the sick, wash feet. Those are often sacramental acts, outward displays of inward grace, but there’s another aspect that elevates Baptism and Holy Communion to the level of sacrament: mystery.
The Greek word for sacrament is “mysterion.” God is mysteriously present in baptism and Communion in ways that are distinguished from God’s everyday presence in acts of service and love. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism and, we believe, on those baptized in his name. Jesus is mysteriously present in the Bread and the Cup in ways that are different than when Jesus is present at our other meals.
In response to these mysterious acts of presence and demonstrations of love, we pledge our life. It’s worth noting that the Latin word for sacrament (“sacramentum”) means “oath.”
This past Sunday, we experienced the mystery of God’s presence in Holy Communion. This Sunday we’ll experience the mystery of God’s presence in an infant’s baptism (during the 9 a.m. sanctuary service) and renew our own baptisms in all three services. This is an opportunity to renew our oaths to God, giving thanks that God has never broken his vow to us.
As you are preparing for this meaningful service, pause and give thought to this: if you are baptized, you not only have joined Jesus’ community through baptism, you have also participated in one of acts of faith he experienced. One more gracious act of God’s incarnation among us: he participated in something that we needed. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized, and was praying…” (Luke 2:21).