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.