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Baptism and Eucharist: Sacraments Create Oneness of Life in Christ
Related Forum Video
Baptism into the Body of Christ (Romans 6:3-11; Galatians 3:23-29; II Corinthians 5:1, 13-26)
Eucharist and Oneness in the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 11:17-33 and 12:4-27)
"We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." Romans 6:4
"For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes." I Corinthians 11:26
Oneness in Christ
In the letters of Paul, the phrase “in Christ” occurs more than eighty times. It is not hard to conclude, therefore, that Paul considers being “in Christ” of utmost importance. But just what does he mean by being in Christ? It is particularly hard for us in the individualistic culture that we live in – a culture that delights in personal striving, selfies, and “watching out for number one” – to grasp what Paul may be getting at.
In the world of Jesus and Paul, the idea of a human being existing as a singular individual – apart from deep connections to family, tribe, people, nation, and religion – was unthinkable. Everyone was embedded and supported in some community of connection. To be at all was to belong, to be “in” something larger than oneself.
So how was oneness in Christ any different from these various forms of embedded community that were ubiquitous throughout the ancient world? The most startling difference is that virtually every other embedded community in the ancient world was highly bounded, stratified, and cut off from other embedded structures of relationship. But the Church – the Body of Christ – was not. The Church – as Paul eloquently says in Galatians 3:28 – was a community which was not stratified. There was neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in the Body of Christ: all were regarded as one in Christ Jesus. This difference may have been one of the primary factors that made for the explosive growth of Christianity in its earliest days. In the Body of Christ, folks who were slaves and folks who were masters were baptized in the same water, and shared the table of Christ’s Body and Blood together, eating from the same platter, and drinking from the same cup. There was virtually no other place in the ancient world where this sort of oneness across differences existed.
Baptism and Eucharist
It is one thing – theoretically and intellectually – to come to believe that barriers between one stratified group and another have been broken, and that oneness can be experienced with people who are different from oneself. It is quite another thing to experience this physically, week after week, in rituals that powerfully illustrate and enact this breaking of barriers, and this unifying across lines of difference.
Baptism and Eucharist, the two primary sacraments within the Church – the Body of Christ – illustrate and enact our oneness in ways that cannot be mistaken. Think just about the baptisms that have taken place at Trinity over the past year or so. People from African backgrounds have been baptized in the same font with people from Asian backgrounds. People of Northern European heritage have been baptized with people from the Caribbean and the subcontinent of India. All in the same font, in the same water. All admitting their need of forgiveness and new life. All admitting a willingness to die to old ways of being so that they could become more one with one another in Christ.
And pay close attention to the procession of people who come to the altar rail at Trinity, Sunday by Sunday. A descendant of an old Brahmin Boston family stands or kneels next to a person newly arrived from China, who has little English and little knowledge of life in this city. A priest like me whose family owned slaves in the first half of the nineteenth century drinks from the same cup of Christ’s Blood as a parishioner whose ancestors were slaves. A young graduate student in architectural history newly baptized as a Christian is made one body with a Vestry member who has been teaching architectural history his entire career. A very well-heeled person who has no worries about money stands at Communion next to someone who has been a long-time parishioner but has been out of work for two years, worrying constantly about where the money for food, clothing, and shelter will come from, and they share a tiny piece of bread from the one loaf that is Christ. A parishioner who is an avowed Socialist and a fan of Bernie Sanders is made one with a parishioner whose hero is Ronald Reagan and who intends to vote for Donald Trump, as they drink in the amazing love of God in Christ that regards both their politics as too narrow.
To be part of the Body of Christ is to have one’s boundaries stretched. To be bathed in the same water as someone who lives in a very different sort of domicile from one’s own. To eat and drink together with someone whose path one would never likely cross if they were not members together, brothers and sisters, one in body and blood in the Body of Christ. It is to be part of a Bible study with someone who understands God and the role of Christ’s death and Resurrection in radically different ways from one’s own – but who is becoming one’s friend in this Body that does not allow itself to be divided by the world’s boundaries that separate us according to neighborhood, and class, and race, and education, and politics. To be one with one another in Christ is to have one’s lack of knowledge about and lack of empathy for that other compromised. Broken down by the stirrings of love that began in the rock that God threw into the world in Christ Jesus and that ripple down to us thousands of miles from Jesus’ homeland, and thousands of years after this life, and death, and Resurrection. To be one in Christ is to discover – to God’s glory and one’s great joy – that one is not as alone in the world as one might fear.
– The Rev. Bill Rich
"A Sonnet for Jesus’ Baptism" – Malcolm Guite ( b. 1957)
Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Spirit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’
In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.
"In Christ There Is No East or West"
"John the Baptist Baptizing" – artist unknown
"Contemporary Last Supper" – Photographer: David LaChapelle
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