eucharist-icon.jpg

Translation has been a central issue of Christianity since the time of Jesus. One of the most unique aspects of the religion is its universality: God became human in Jesus Christ so that all may be forgiven and reconciled with God, no matter who they are, where they are from, or what they have done with their life. 

The latin word, sacramentum, is a translation of the Greek word, mysterion. The word, mysterion, may make you think about TV mysteries or books with detectives and murders and problems to solve. Mysterion does not mean something unknown. Instead, it points to a solution that has been revealed. A gift. 

Much of Article 16 of the Articles of Religion is concerned with what is not a sacrament. Like Article 14, there is a definite anti-Catholic bias to this that today should be read generously with an eye to the broader church Universal. It is important to remember that John Wesley did not write the articles, he adapted those that were adopted by the Church of England some 200 years prior. My own reading and understanding of sacrament in the United Methodist Church is framed by Wesley's work on the Means of Grace, which are articulated most clearly in his sermon of the same name. They can be summarized in the following way:

Works of Piety

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

Works of Mercy

Individual Practices - doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others

Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor

Wesley frames the sacraments into the wholistic life of the Christian seeking God and seeking to be perfected in holiness so that all that remains is love. 

Communion is not a badge or a token. Baptism is not a badge or a token. God acts through these means. God acts through other means, as well, and so we should seek God wherever God is to be find. We should seek grace, especially at the table, especially at the mercy of the baptismal font by introducing others to the mercy of Christ and the purpose of life in friendship with God.

Article XVI - Of the Sacraments

Sacraments ordained of Christ are not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they are certain signs of grace, and God's good will toward us, by which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in him.

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

Those five commonly called sacraments, that is to say, confirmation, penance, orders, matrimony, and extreme unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel; being such as have partly grown out of the corrupt following of the apostles, and partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures, but yet have not the like nature of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, because they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about; but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation; but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves condemnation, as St. Paul saith.