As I continue to learn about worship history in my online class, the focus recently has been symbolic actions that have been a part of worship expression. The two most obvious things that fall into this category, and that are widely accepted as sacrements across Church lines, are baptism and communion (or the Eucharist).
To me, symbolic actions are a huge way of expressing truth, worship history, and our connection and engagement with Christ. No matter which flavor you may come from, the symbolic actions of these things are huge. With baptism, we are able to identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in a very real and tangible way that expresses our desire and decision to be a Christ-follower. It was very interesting to learn some of the history of the expression of baptism. In the way back days, individuals who accepted Christ then engaged in a three year discipleship process to prepare them. Then they entered into a period of preparation and reflection that began on Ash Wednesday and lasted the duration of Lent. Then, those who were ready were baptized on Easter Sunday. It seems that this was not only the primary time of baptism, but perhaps the only time. This insight has been huge for me.
Communion is also full of symbolism. If nothing else, the expression of Christ’s death and what He did for us is huge. But, as Dan Wilt said, communion also does the following:
- Commemorates that God has acted as Savior to penetrate all of human history, from creation, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, through our present, and to the final consummation (Acts 2:46-47).
- Reminds us that we are part of the communion of saints in the family of God (1 Cor. 10:16).
- Persuades us that a sacrifice has occurred to right the world (John 1:29).
- Speaks of the presence of Christ among us (John 6:51-58).
- Welcomes us to experience the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).
- Looks forward to the eschaton (the age to come) (1 Cor. 11:26). ((Dan Wilt, “Essentials in Worship History: The Language of Eucharist” (www.essentialscourse.com), 27.))
The expression of these things can be huge. For baptism, I think that it has always been an expression of celebration, but being exposed to the some of the practices of years past and the intense symbolism reawakened my appreciation for that expression. I’ve been in some settings where it just seemed the significance was missing, perhaps because people, like me, had lost some of the depth of that expression. This year, we are looking to do some Baptisms on Easter Sunday.
Communion has always been a significant expression to me. Unfortunately, I’ve also been in way too many communion services where it has become more of a ritual than a true expression. As a pastor, I’ve always wanted to bring fresh expression and reminders to the worship act of Communion so that people are constantly seeing it in a fresh and impactful way. That may be different ways of distributing it, taking it, talking about it, incorporating it, and so forth. Of course, I’ve also discovered I have to be careful sometimes in the ways we express it because it can mess with people. I think, though, the more we can make something other than take a cracker and take a plastic cup of juice, the richer the expression is no matter who often someone has done it. I think a huge injustice is done in many churches with the expression of Communion because it has become routine on a certain Sunday of every month.
I hope that we can continue to engage in symbolic actions that engage more of our senses in the expression of worship. Baptism and communion are just the beginning. I hope to incorporate some active prayer expressions into the worship life of the church. We are also going to invite people to engage in an interactive Good Friday experience that will be full of symbolic actions and imagery.