Exchanging Vows: Thoughts on the sacraments and what they mean.

Exchanging Vows

On June 26, I will conduct the wedding of my niece Alyssa and her fiancé Eric.

As with every wedding, there are three principal parts.

They will first publicly declare their intentions to live together in a particular way that we call a marriage.

Next, they will exchange vows of love, loyalty and support that will bind them together as a married couple.

Finally, they will exchange rings as a visible sign of an invisible truth.

When those words, “with this ring, I thee wed” were spoken, two became one.

But the wedding is not a one-off moment in time.

It is an event that should be celebrated at least annually.

To remember our vows and the moment two became one.

Some of those celebrations are more than just flowers and a card, though flowers and a card are good.

Two weeks ago, my son’s in-laws celebrated their 40the wedding anniversary.

It wasn’t just a party; it was a reenactment of their wedding vows.

It was both reminder and celebration.

A reminder of their vows they exchanged 40 years ago and a celebration of their continued determination to keep those vows.

All this wedding stuff seems almost sacramental.

But weddings are what I call a secular sacrament.

Why secular?

Because we in the PCUSA don’t consider marriage a sacrament.

We define a sacrament as a symbolic act instituted by Jesus that he commanded his disciples to continue or observe.

These sacraments are practices of faith in what God has done for us.

They are our symbolic testimonies of our faith.

Symbols of what we believe.

And there are only have two.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Which brings us to our scripture readings.

Matthew 28: 18-20

18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Luke 22: 14-20

14When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Why is baptism a sacrament?

In our scripture reading this morning, Christian baptism is something Jesus defined and ordered us to perform.

 [Baptize] them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and [teach] them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

Instituted and ordered.

So, baptism is a sacrament.

Why is the Lord’s Supper a sacrament?

In our scripture reading this morning, Jesus defined the meaning of the Last Supper and ordered us to continue.

 [Take] a loaf of bread, [give] thanks, [break] it and [share it] saying, “This is [Jesus] body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of [him].” And [then do] the same with the cup …, saying, “This cup that is poured out for [us] is the new covenant in [Jesus’] blood.

Instituted and ordered.

So, the Lord’s Supper is a sacrament.

So why did Jesus institute and command baptism and the Lord’s Supper?

How are they symbols of our faith?

Baptism first.

Listen again to the words we use in our ceremony.

Obeying the word of our Lord Jesus, and confident of his promises, we baptize those whom God has called.

In baptism God claims us and seals us to show that we belong to God.

God frees us from sin and death, uniting us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.

By water and the Holy Spirit, we are made members of the church, the body of Christ and joined in Christ’s ministry of love, peace and justice.

Baptism is a gift to those whom God calls.

It unites us with a community of faith, a church, the body of Christ.

It unites us to all  the others who are baptized in the ministries and missions of Jesus.

Today God called Gracelyn Joy to be baptized at JMPC.

That we baptize babies symbolizes to us our faith that God calls us as his own before we even know it or could possibly understand it.

But even when we baptize an adult who confesses faith and asks to be baptized, the water symbolizes their willing acceptance of that same call of God.

While I do love baptizing babies, my two favorite baptisms were of adults.

On both occasions, tears were shed when the water was poured and they felt the connection to God.

Babies maybe feel that, too, but they can’t tell us about it.

Baptism is one way our faith is carried down through the generations.

We bring the next generation of disciples to the font where the water is poured and they receive God’s great gift.

And while the water dries, the invisible truth it leaves on the head is that this person is not part of the body of Christ.

It is much like the ring at a wedding.

The Lord’s Supper does much the same thing, but in a different way.

Jesus shared his last Passover with his disciples and gave them symbols of his mission.

Bread symbolizes his body.

Wine symbolizes his blood.

Both symbolize an act by Jesus creating a new covenant between God and us that we are reconciled to God forever.

And we are told to continue this symbolic act in order to make sure we remember that.

So we invite believers to the table regularly.

We recite the words Jesus used to establish the custom.

And we pray a Great Prayer of thanksgiving that includes these words:

You are holy, O God of majesty,

and blessed is Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.

In Jesus, born of Mary, your Word became flesh

and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

He lived as one of us, knowing joy and sorrow.

He healed the sick,

fed the hungry,

opened blind eyes,

broke bread with outcasts and sinners,

and proclaimed the good news of your kingdom to the poor and needy.

Dying on the cross,

he gave himself for the life of the world.

Rising from the grave,

he won for us victory over death.

Seated at your right hand,

he leads us to eternal life.

In this prayer, we proclaim our faith.

In the sharing of the bread and cup, we remember what Jesus did and why he did it..

We remind ourselves of God’s great gift and how we are united with God.

It is much like a celebration of the anniversary of the new covenant.

Both sacraments are to be done publicly, so that anyone who happens to be present can see them.

Such a person might be compelled to ask, “Why do you do this?”

At which point we can tell them.

We tell them that these are our ritual celebrations of our vows of love, loyalty and support that God gives us and that we return to God.

And all of this is what Jesus instituted and commanded us to do.

We proclaim to the world in these acts what we believe to be true.

We are loved.

We are forgiven.

We are thankful.

We are obedient.

We belong to God.

Forever.

So, in a sense every time we observe or participate in these sacraments they are like anniversaries.

Celebrations of our commitments – dare I say vows? – to God.

When we baptize, we are reminded that we belong to God.

When we come to the Lord’s table, we are reminded that we are loved and forgiven.

These sacraments are acts of reverence, homage, thanks and praise.

They are our testimony that we love God and God loves us.

Thanks be to God who has given us these symbols of our faith.

And we are celebrating both today!

Which I think is appropriate for the occasion of our reentering the sanctuary after our 14 months in exile.

What better way to commemorate this day than to celebrate the sacraments?

To be reminded that God has called us to be God’s own.

To be reminded that God so loved us that God gave his only son so that we might live.

To proclaim these truths in this public space so that all here and all streaming this worship service may see or hear what we believe.

And to recommit to God our love, loyalty and support for the missions and ministries we have undertaken to know, glorify and serve God.

The exchange of vows with God.

So let us remember our baptism!

Beloved people of God, our baptism is a sign and seal of our cleansing from sin and our being grafted into Christ.

Through the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, the power of sin is broken, and God’s kingdom entered our world.

Through baptism we were made citizens of God’s kingdom and freed from the bondage of sin.

Let us celebrate that freedom and redemption through the renewal of the promises we made at our baptisms.

I ask you, therefore, once again to reject sin and profess your faith in Jesus Christ and to confess the faith of the church, the faith in which we were baptized.

So I ask you these questions:

Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?

I do.

Who is your Lord and Savior?

Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love?

I will, with God’s help.

Remember your baptism and be thankful and know that the Holy Spirit is at work in you.

In a few moments, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper as well.

And we will remember.

And now join me in a prayer of thanksgiving for our church.

When I say, “We give you thanks…” please respond by saying, “We give you thanks, O God.

Eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being, hear our prayer.

For the Church universal, and for this congregation, we give you thanks.

We give you thanks, O God.

For this place in which we gather for praise and prayer, witness and service, we give you thanks.

We give you thanks, O God.

For your presence among us whenever your word has been proclaimed, your sacramental gifts of bread and the cup shared, we give you thanks.

We give you thanks, O God.

For those who have been made your children by the waters of baptism. we give you thanks.

We give you thanks, O God.

For disciples young and old who have been nurtured here in faith, we give you thanks.

We give you thanks, O God.

For all who come here asking your blessing on their marriage and seeking to love with your love, we give you thanks.

We give you thanks, O God.

For deacons and elders and pastors who have led and loved us, and by the offering of their gifts equipped us for ministry, we give you thanks.

We give you thanks, O God.

For faithful stewards among us who have supported this church with generous tithes and offerings, we give you thanks.

We give you thanks, O God.

For all the saints who have stood among us, whose memory still enlivens our faith and emboldens our witness, we give you thanks.

We give you thanks, O God.

For the ministries of worship and mission, nurture and fellowship, and forall whose lives have been touched by them, we give you thanks.

We give you thanks, O God.

Receive our gratitude, O God, for the years through wich you have led us, and open our future to your promise.

In the years that lie ahead, grant us your encouragement in the work of ministry, your consolation in our troubles and your challenge to our complacency.

Give us such trust in your abiding Holy Spirit that we may find joy and peace in our common life, strength and courage to live in the world of your reign, and hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

AMEN

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