In-Sight: God’s Mountain Peaks

I did not grow up in a “high church” atmosphere, where liturgy and sacraments were emphasized.  I have had to learn my way into an understanding of these things, and as I do so, I increasingly recognize and respect the reasons why our predecessors felt they were so important.

Today, I want to write about the sacraments.

I originally saw them as two distinct practices.  We didn’t have a lot of births in Haskell, Texas—so infant baptisms were few and far between.  Actual conversions were the same, making believer’s baptisms a rare occurrence.  The point is, there were long stretches when no one was baptized.  I have memories of looking into the font and finding it dry.

With respect to the Lord’s Supper, we celebrated it monthly most of the time—sometimes only quarterly.   But no matter when we did it, you could expect attendance to drop 10-20 percent.  And there was nothing taught that would have emphasized the significance of Eucharist or attracted us to it.  We never used the full order of service, but only the shortened ritual—which was utilized not for theological reasons, but rather to insure that we’d still be able to be done by Noon.

That’s the “sacramental atmosphere” I grew up in, and many others tell me they did too.  It’s no wonder that a whole generation (or generations) of Christians emerged with a “low church,” view that almost always includes a diminishment of sacramental practice and appreciation.

By contrast, those who have maintained a strong sacramental theology and practice have kept alive in the Church the fact that the Christian journey must be marked by both initiation and appropriation.  Baptism is the sacrament which marks our initiation into the faith, and Eucharist is the sacrament which marks the ongoing appropriation of grace.

The two sacraments are not, in fact, separated. Together, they tell the Gospel story—how faith begins in profession of faith, and how it continues in a never-ending expression of faith.  Together, the sacraments declare the primacy of grace and necessity of response to grace.

I wish I had grown up viewing the sacraments this way.

Every mountain range has identifiable “peaks” which not only can be seen from a greater distance, but which help attract our attention to the larger range itself.  I pray that God is raising up a new generation of Christians—disciples who see Baptism and Eucharist as “peaks” in the larger Gospel story—“peaks” which invite our attention into the way faith begins, and how it continues.

We need these “peaks” in order to see the grandeur of God’s “mountain range.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to In-Sight: God’s Mountain Peaks

  1. Donna Bogan says:

    Steve:
    I confess that my own dad used to AVOID communion Sundays like the plague in the years before he joined the choir. I remember, too, that once Ruth Chapman had the choir read through the service music for communion in the hymnal once, (after I joined it, before Dad did), We actually DID the music at the service. It turns out to be what the Episcopals call Rite I from the older hymnal. We never did it AGAIN! lol I guess that’s where the Episcopal Church first began to grab me, although I hadn’t a clue about that then.

    I want to share this with Pastor Jim Noble, the pastor at Alice UMC, where I currently play. He broached the topic at a worship planning meeting last week that he wants to INCREASE the frequency of communion. He definitely has MY support because I enjoyed DAILY communion for a time at the tiny Episcopal church in Dumas in the 80’s. There was 1 priest and 4 layreaders in rotation, two of whom were married to one another. The schedule nearly killed us, but I have never experienced greater spiritual growth than during that time. I think Jim will have an uphill battle at Alice, but perhaps this will give some support! Blessings on your postings! dgb

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