Ordination Questions: The Sacraments

As I get into some of these questions, I won’t be posting everything. Some of the questions don’t require much more than our assent to certain things. These are important questions, but they’re not all that interesting to read.

7.) What is the meaning and significance of the Sacraments?

As United Methodists, we recognize Baptism and Holy Communion as the, “two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord.”[1] John Wesley described the sacraments as means of grace and then defined that term, “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained by God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men [and women], preventing, justifying, and sanctifying grace.”[2] Baptism is the sacrament through which we are united with the Church and incorporated into the body of Christ, and Holy Communion is the ongoing sacred meal of the community in which we celebrate by eating and drinking with one another and with Christ.[3]

The sacraments have a powerful formative role in the community of faith and are essential to our ongoing mission as God’s people. In Baptism, we are able to communicate the story of God’s people in a dynamic and dramatic act. Whether we are baptizing adults or infants, we are richly communicating the essential nature of discipleship and the salvation we receive through the loving work of Jesus, even as grace is conveyed and received. In Communion, we remember the mighty acts of our Lord who welcomed tax collectors and sinners to a common table for fellowship, we actively participate in God’s Kingdom, and we are formed, nourished, and strengthened in grace to live out our calling as those set apart by God for God’s mission in the world.

In closing, I want to use a story in order to more fully explore, understand, and explain the significance of the sacraments. When my daughter Emma was just old enough to start asking questions about the faith, our family went to an evening communion service at the Church where I was doing my seminary internship. After the pastor consecrated the elements and people started to go forward, Emma looked at me and said, “What are we doing?” I tried to summarize what took place in a sacrament in terms that a three year old would understand, so I said, “Honey, when we do this it means Jesus is here with us.” Immediately, with the faith of a child, she began craning her neck to see if she could get a glimpse of him. With the faith of a child, Emma noticed something that many of us take years to understand. In the sacraments, Christ is truly present offering grace, healing, forgiveness, and love. May we have the kind of innocent trust that might allow us to recognize God’s holy presence each time we see someone brought to the Holy Waters of Baptism and each time we celebrate the mystery, eating together at Christ’s Holy Table!

[1] United Methodist Book of Discipline. ¶103, Article XVI – Of the Sacraments

[2] Gayle Carlton Felton, This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion. (Nashville:

Discipleship Resources, 2006). p. 15.

[3] ibid., p. 25

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