The Bond of Baptism and Communion

This past Sunday I was given the opportunity to deliver the communion meditation, that part of the service where we pause to reflect upon and rejoice in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. This opportunity would also occur on the same day our associate Hmong ministry would be baptizing ten new believers. Thus I felt this would be a good opportunity to discuss how the sacraments of Baptism and Communion are inseparably linked together.

While both are pilgrim rituals through which we identify ourselves with the Lord who redemptively identified himself with humanity, each is a unique phase of the same journey.

The practice of Communion was established at the Lord’s Supper when Jesus took the bread, as it says in Luke, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

And then taking the cup, he said “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”

In the bread is the sin-atoning death of Jesus. In the cup is the abundant life of his new covenant. Christ’s death and Christ’s life. As often as we take this bread and cup throughout our journey of faith, this Communion practice helps us to remember and proclaim to observers that our lives are to be identified by Christ’s death and Christ’s life. But before we can live out that journey, we must first begin that journey.

Paul speaks of this journey’s beginning in Romans 6 where he writes “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

The act of Baptism, of being immersed and then emerging, is meant to mimic or mirror Christ’s death and resurrection. By being immersed into water, we are being buried into Christ’s death, so that the death he died is a death that covers us. And by emerging from the water, we are rising into the life for which he was raised. We die to sin through the death that Christ died so we may rise to life through Christ’s resurrection. As Paul’s words conveyed, we do this Baptismal practice so we might “walk” in life’s newness, thus beginning this journey of faith.

While it is through the continual practice of Communion we are reminded and proclaim that our lives are to be identified in Christ’s death and life, it is at the one-time practice of Baptism we declare that our lives will henceforth be defined by Christ’s death and life.

Baptism marks the beginning of this journey in Christ; Communion keeps us on this journey in Christ. Baptism is not simply a one-time event that exists in our past; it echoes throughout our life through Communion. Christ’s death, which we receive each week in the bread, is the death into which we were immersed; and Christ’s resurrection, which we drink each week in the cup, is the new life for which we were raised. The practice of Communion ripples out from the practice of Baptism.

Why does this all matter? Understanding the connection these sacraments share clarifies their mutual purpose. They clarify how this covenant we have with Christ must remain rooted in Christ. They do not make it difficult to have access to Jesus; they give sanctifying structure to that access. A structure that is meant to conform us to Christ. These sacraments shape in us the type of covenant relationship God designed to share with his people, one that through Christ’s death may encompass those who will embody Christ’s life.

The Eucharist as Hope in the Horror of Human History

Horror could be humanity’s most consistent contribution to history. I don’t mean horror just in terms of viciousness, but also of a deep sense of pain and suffering, sorrow and loss, fear and chaos, shame and inertia, bitterness and distrust, disappointment and despair—realities churned up in the wake of all that human sinfulness has wrought.

Most of the time, I really don’t know how to comprehend much of the horror I hear or read about, how to process it, or know what to do with it. Like many of us, a lot of times I feel like there’s nothing to do. In some situations we can write our representatives, sometimes we can donate to charity or volunteer, try to alleviate some pain, but eventually all we can do is wait, for something or nothing. And while we wait, we wonder; what’s the meaning of this, what is the world coming to, why is this the way it is? Then usually as we go about life, we learn to ignore it. But the reality with human horror is at some point it finds its way in and can no longer be ignored.

Some time ago, one of our Bible study members lost her mother to a long battle with dementia; every time she came to Bible study, she would give us an update on her mom, which wasn’t so much an update as a reminder that her mother’s life was gradually winding down and there was nothing she could do except be patient and present and let everything unfold. At the funeral mass, as her mother’s draped casket was wheeled forward, she followed behind, her face exhausted and wrinkled, her eyes dripping with tears. As much as she had tried in the past months, there was no more ignoring the horror. But near the end of the service, the priests observed the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, the tradition commemorating renewal God initiated in the death of Jesus. While watching it reenacted, it made perfect sense.

The Eucharist at a funeral. Jesus’ death powerfully present in the place of death. We are not alone in the horror. Horror is, in fact, just the context and conditions from out of which God’s salvation shall come forth. This is why the death of Jesus irrevocably changes everything. The death of Jesus is not merely a tradition for the religious. Christ-on-the-cross is the redefining moment of history.

In Christ’s birth, God embodied and identified with humanity as hope stepping into our path of history, as well as our horror. While living life as “God with us”, his witness of words and wonders paved hope into the horrific path of human history through which he walked. Now since death is the only destination toward which horror can go and since death is only as far as it can go, to death is exactly where Jesus went; in dying, he endured horror, the consequences for all that humanity’s sin has wrought throughout history. But only after horror did its worst to him could Christ-on-the-cross be revealed as hope-in-the-horror; thus it was in his resurrection that hope triumphantly emerged from the horror, creating a divergence between horror and history.

Horror can only go so far. In view of Christ’s death, horror is revealed to be limited and in Christ’s resurrection, hope is revealed to be transcendent. Hope can go anywhere horror can, but only hope can go further, dig deeper, climb higher, reach wider, and hold on longer.

The Eucharist is God’s testimony that death is being dealt with; that the horrors scarring human history are not allowed to have the final say in history. When your congregation takes Holy Communion this Maundy Thursday or Resurrection Sunday, you are both celebrating and proclaiming Christ as hope-in-the-horror; that the world’s horrors cannot defeat the hope planted and paved in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and that history cannot wear down a humanity following in those footsteps. To a humanity so accustomed to its horrific nature, Christ showed us what it looks like to be truly human by not allowing history to be defined by our horror, but by the hope of him who redeems humanity and redefines history.

In him we are becoming hope-in-the-horror, showing a weary world what it means to be a people of hope in a place that has none; a people who stop asking “what is the world coming to?” and start testifying “Christ-on-the-cross” so all may see the hope beyond horror in a redeemed humanity as a new history dawns.