Tonight we begin the preparations for his death and burial. He prepares us, really. Food, last words, gentle acts of humble service and care. Tonight is a series of preparatory moves; beginning with confession and forgiveness, moving to the waters where feet that have walked with him are washed and healed; finishing with the supper that became his signature practice. Tonight is how Jesus demonstrates the act of grace---God dwelling deep in our flesh, uniting with us in simple acts of love. Tonight the sacraments are born, instituted, established. So…here are:
7 things everyone should know about the sacraments.
1. There are really three. Baptism. Communion. The office of the keys or confession. Tonight we experience a rare combination of all three. Footwashing is a cleaning, a regeneration, and a sharing in Christ’s suffering (a kind of baptismal act). Confession and absolution completes the 40 day fast of Lent and prepares our souls for resurrection life in God’s kingdom. Communion is a participation with the disciples in the last supper and the new covenant established in his death and resurrection.
2. Sacraments are commanded by Lord Jesus. “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that I have commanded you.” “Do this in remembrance of me”. “I give you a new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you.” About confession’ Luther said, “Here reflect on your place in life in light of the ten commandments: whether you are father, mother, son, daughter, employer, employee: whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, lazy; whether you have harmed anyone by word or deed; whether you have stolen, neglected, wasted, or injured anyone.
3. 3. Sacraments carry with them the promises of God. “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Mark 16. Luther says that baptism brings about the forgiveness of sis, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the Word and promise of God declare. He calls baptism a bath into a new birth in the Holy Spirit. Communion carries with it the promise that it is “for you” and “for me”. Jesus is for us and for our salvation. Jesus intends for us to live whole, right, good, and faithful lives now and forever. Baptism and communion physically unite us with Jesus’ body. He is spiritually in the water, in the bread and wine. So, he comes into us as we wash, eat, and drink. To get closer to Jesus one only needs to participate in these acts.
4. 4. Ordinary things carry the power of God to heal, to forgive, to save. Jesus gives ordinary earthly elements divine properties. Water, bread, fruit of the vine: These are ever present on the earth. They are building blocks of life really. And they are signs to us that God is not up in heaven, in a royal palace, untouchable, unknowable. God is present in these real tangible ways. Immersed in, infused into these very real, very physical, very simple things.
5. 5. It’s not magic. Its faith. We take Jesus at his word. We say it is because he said it is. We believe because believing makes a difference. It is a basic acceptance of a thing; like gravity or spring flowers or summer heat. It just is. Trust it and God will give you something. That’s why babies and children are great examples of faith; they receive. It’s not mechanical or philosophical. It doesn’t require special knowledge, proofs, or evidence. It is mystery how Jesus becomes bread, wine, and water. Resurrection frees him to be present to us in these obvious and ordinary ways.
6. 6. They’re easy to share. Because they are natural and safe. Because access is so easily granted us, and because we are the only obstacles to sharing them…the benefits have been experienced and acknowledged for centuries. The command is clear. And there are plenty of people who have not yet been offered these gifts, we are compelled by love to do so. Tonight. This weekend and every week.
7. 7. Pastors administer them. God calls men and women to their service, not as protectors or gatekeepers; but as distributors and agents of invitation. We get to play host at a meal that is not mine. We get to be deliverers of much needed good news to people estranged from God, wounded, broken, suffering in systems of injustice that alienate, accuse, judge, and condemn. Longing for peace, real peace---shalom---wholeness, honesty, health, loving relationships, goodness---pastors get shepherd people to the waters and the bread of life.
So, tonight we receive the sacraments. He prepares us for death and new life. He invites us to participate in his life, his death, his resurrection over and over again. As we enter into the story of his passion and death, may you enter with the strength and comfort of having received grace, love, and the forgiveness of all your sins. Amen.