The things we do in the flesh affect our spirit, and the things we do in our spirit affect our flesh.
This is the Incarnation—God becoming flesh forever.
This is at the heart of what sacramental living means.
The intersection of flesh and spirit is no more clearly seen than at the Cross. Even the most fundamental of Bible-believing Christians know that what happened on the cross—the passion, the death, the sacrifice, the pouring of Jesus’ blood—is the demonstrative proof of the very real link between flesh and spirit. There is no denying this, or you are no longer orthodox Christian.
So where do we get the position or authority to say that the practices have been called the Sacraments in the history of the Church—Communion (aka the Eucharist, the Lord’s Table, the Lord’s Supper, the Last Supper), Baptism, Marriage, Ordination, Confirmation, Confession (aka Penance, Reconciliation), Anointing of the Sick—that these are symbols in our faith walk?
I am still learning so much about all of these, but I am going to focus on the two that I have thought the most about: Communion and Baptism. Rather Protestant of me, no?
Baptism is no more a symbol than the cross is a symbol.
If you’ve attended or participated in an evangelical Protestant church, you have doubtless seen someone get baptized or at least heard about baptism. (Well, can I say ‘doubtless’? Maybe your experience has been different.)
Anyway, back to baptism. And most likely, you’ve heard that the reason Christians get baptized is to publicly proclaim allegiance to Jesus or membership in His Church. Perhaps the pastor has thrown in something like this: Baptism does not remove our sins; it’s a symbol of what Jesus has done. Yes?
Here’s the deal: Baptism is no more a symbol than the cross is a symbol. There is power in baptism, a new freedom because God chose to become flesh and chose to let water wash us physically and spiritually.
Baptism is no mere symbol.
The point where symbolism must fade behind the light of REALITY is the Cross. Jesus didn’t merely surrender His will (though such a glorious surrender!); He didn’t merely shed symbolic blood. Real. Blood. Was. Shed. For our redemption.
Read these words about baptism from the Apostle Paul:
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Nope. Not symbolic. We were buried with Jesus. United in His real-and-not-symbolic death.
I’m not saying that I understand how that all works. But this is what I do know: after I was baptized at age 14, I experienced a remarkable newness–not merely spiritual, but physical, a joy that effected all of me and made it easier to say no to sin and yes to Jesus. I asked Jesus to be my Savior at age 3, so 11 years were not lost; they were simply not lived as fully as they could have been.
This phrase has echoed in my heart since I heard a friend say it:
There is mystery in Communion; there is power in Communion.
The same is true of baptism. We are washed and joined in Jesus’ death and resurrection through the physical act of baptism. We are fed with true food and true drink when we eat and drink the bread and wine of Communion.
I’m not saying that I understand how the Communion reality works either—that I can say with the assurance of the Catholic Church that the bread becomes physical bread and the wine physical blood. (Otherwise, I’d need to be doing some converting…) All I have are Jesus’ words:
For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him…This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me…This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.
John 6:55, 56; Luke 22:19, 20
Let me tell you, as one who has struggled most of her life with food addiction and condemnation that results from that, I need true food and true drink. And I need it at least weekly to feed me! It’s not symbolic; it’s reality. It takes me to the foot of the cross, with a heart of thankfulness for being loved and a heart of brokenness over sin, and yet here is hope that He is not a God faraway, symbolically. He is near. He comes to me through bread and wine. He lets me digest Him, take Him into myself in a way that no symbol could ever suffice.
This effects every part of my life. It means that I can live in the intersection of spirit and flesh, at the crux of the Cross, in everything I do—mothering, wifing, cooking, cleaning, teaching Spanish, writing fiction or blog posts, singing, talking to the cashier at Walmart, even and especially resting. Because my flesh matters in eternity. So does yours. Don’t fall prey to the lie that only ‘spiritual’ things matter. It’s straight from hell.