(Note: This was first written for my church's winter newsletter in December 2018)
In the Lutheran church, we acknowledge two sacraments: communion and baptism. Martin Luther felt there needed to be some Biblical basis for defining a sacrament and cut back on the total of Roman Catholic sacraments. The definition he settled on had three parts: a sacrament had to a) be commanded by Jesus, b) have a physical sign, and c) have a promise of grace attached to it.
A few practices and traditions that are important to us fail to be a full sacrament because they lack one of these three. Confession and forgiveness for instance is commanded by Jesus and has a promise of grace, but not a physical sign. Foot washing is commanded and has a physical sign, but not a promise of grace.
Over the years of being a pastor, I’ve come to believe there is a third sacrament that should be acknowledged and celebrated in church. I believe it is a sacrament even though as far as I know it isn’t acknowledged as one in any denomination. I believe the third sacrament is us, the Church itself, the Body of Christ.
I could spend more time explaining my thinking, but in short, I believe Jesus commands us to be together (John 14:20-21), promises us grace when we come together (Matthew 18:20), and there is a physical sign — each other.
I share this idea with you because we are heading again towards the seasons of Advent and Christmas. In these seasons, we share presents and carols and egg nog, but at their heart is an idea closely tied to this third sacrament: incarnation or God made flesh. In this time of year, we remember the arrival of God’s son, Jesus, in human form. In taking on flesh, he became a blessing to those around him, a source of light in a time of darkness, and a sign of God’s love to those in need.
In another time that feels full of darkness, there is comfort in this story. Our politics are a mess, natural disasters and mass shootings seem to happen weekly, wars continue to rage around the world and even allies don’t seem as trustworthy as they once did. That God took flesh to offer hope and life in a similar time is a sign of grace, but we need also remember it is not in the past.
Jesus didn’t just come in the flesh; he comes in the flesh. And just as he did in Palestine centuries ago, he still comes to be a blessing to those around him, a source of light in a time of darkness, and a sign of God’s love to those in need. Because of the work the Holy Spirit continues to do in us, I believe we are a sacrament, a source of grace and life to each other and the world around us.
May we know the presence of Christ this holiday season. May we see Christ take flesh in those around us and may we be open to how God takes flesh in us. May we be surprised (have “epiphanies”) about the ways God is working around us. And may God use us to be a blessing to the world around us.
From the Gray,
"When everyone you thought you knew deserts your fight, I'll go with you." -twenty one pilots, "My Blood"