Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Opposite of Magic

In the church I grew up in, the pastors made a special point, it seemed like at each instance of celebrating communion or baptism, of saying, "Now, there's nothing magic about this bread (or water). This is just something we do in obedience."

Something in me always rebelled against that. If there was nothing special about it, why go through it? Why would God order meaningless actions? But, no, I didn't really believe in magic bread or water, so I let it lie.

Over the past couple of years, as we've explored sacramental churches and stepped back and then explored again, I've come to realize that a sacrament is the opposite of magic. Magic is an intangible action--a word, a gesture, a symbol--to generate a physical result. But a sacrament is a physical action to transmit a spiritual reality.

We are physical beings. And we are spiritual beings. In the sacraments, God promises to meet us on both levels. And as we began to acknowledge it as such (and recognize that God had indeed been present to us, in that way, all through the years of being told that there was nothing special but we were going to do it anyways), we've begun to see a whole lot of things differently.

We've begun to see that salvation isn't something that rests on the fervency of our own faith, or the complexity with which we can articulate doctrine. It rests simply on the work of God in Christ. It is not a deal to be signed by those who have reached the age of consent, but a meal to be shared with all who come. And looked at that way, it no longer made any sense to keep from sharing it with our children.

Which is why we celebrated this Easter by having all four of the children baptized and receive first Communion.

Do they understand it all? Neither do we. When was I "saved," after all? Was it the first time I prayed the prayer, hiding in the grass as a toddler? Was it when I was seven and wrote it out in my Bible? Was it when I was baptized at eight because my older siblings were? Was it when I was twelve and the enormity of God dying for me hit for the first time? Was it when I wrestled with and walked through doubts as a teenager and young adult?

Or was it all God the whole time? Did it matter how clearly I understood or simply whether I received? Did Jesus, who commended us over and over to the faith of a little child, really mean to tell us that their faith didn't count?

So today we recognized the gift of faith in them and permitted them to receive God's grace through baptism. The older ducklings can answer catechism questions with the best of them, and the twins know that they belong to Jesus. Will they have doubts? Surely. Will they have a crisis of faith, of wondering if it is really theirs or just something inherited? Very likely. I will probably have a few more crises of my own. But that won't change what God does, nor do I hold back from receiving His grace now because I might not take advantage of it in the future.


Devona said...

Wow! What a blessed Easter it was for your family today! Welcome to the family of the baptized to all your ducklings!

Meredith said...

Congratulations! What a happy day made happier for your family.

the Joneses said...

Our older two were baptized on an Easter, so I know for a fact that this Easter will always be special for you!

All of our children receive Communion, and I think they take it with more pure joy and faith than I do. Well, okay, Pip still just likes the wafers. But I am glad that we are free to let the Holy Spirit work in their young lives without requiring them to "understand" it. Because I still don't, myself.

Happy Easter to y'all!

-- SJ

Rachelle said...

YES! YES! Ben was baptized on Easter (with the two oldest Jones kids) and when we had to find a church last year, he very clearly informed us that he HAD to take the bread of Jesus each and every week. Happy Easter! My verse for my kids...."being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 1:6)