Beautiful, isn’t it? I wish I could take credit for the photo, but it’s not mine. I got it off the National Park Service website. It’s the Grand Canyon. My family and I took a trip to the Grand Canyon when I was around 11 and let me say that this picture, though amazing, doesn’t do it justice. You can get an idea of what the Grand Canyon is like through this and other pictures, but you will never really appreciate and understand the Grand Canyon until you visit it in person.
Why do I bore you with talk about the Grand Canyon? Because I believe this picture is a perfect illustration of the expression of God’s grace through the sacraments. Just as this picture portrays the Grand Canyon but can never give you the full picture and understanding of the Grand Canyon, so too the sacraments present a snapshot, a glimpse of the grace of God promised to us in eternity.
In previous posts (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) I have talked about what I think is distinctive in the United Methodist church, and certainly our view of the sacraments fits in this category. The United Methodist church shares two sacraments with most of the Christian world – baptism and communion. (The Catholic church adds confirmation, ordination, marriage, confession, and last rites and other churches add foot washing) For the most part our view is alike with others, but there are some differences that are distinctive. First, the UM church believes that communion is not an act reserved for those who meet some set of criteria, whether specific beliefs or acts. We believe that communion, as an act of God’s grace, is open to all who seek Him and desire His grace in their lives. None of us, if we are truly honest, fully understand or are worthy of the grace given us. Just as Judas participated in the first communion, so too all of us, though unworthy, are welcome to experience God’s grace.
Baptism, in the UM view, presents a distinct difference from many churches. We believe that those who are old enough to declare faith for themselves and have not been baptized can do so through baptism. But we also believe that God’s grace is not reserved for only those who make a decision. God’s grace is for all – whether we accept that grace or not. Children, thought they are not able to understand faith and make a declaration for their own, are still under God’s grace. God extends His love to us despite of us. The act of baptism is a celebration that in Christ we all have salvation and can experience God’s grace. It is God’s invitation to be in relationship with Him. Our salvation is not bound to this rite, but to our accepting this invitation and seeking to live under this grace. We are saved not because we are baptized and we are not baptized in order to be saved – our salvation comes in a personal relationship with Jesus.
The sacraments are full of mystery and certainly no view of them is fully complete. But, like a snap shot of the Grand Canyon, through the sacraments we get a glimpse of the greatness of eternity. We experience God’s grace in a special way and leave the altar knowing that God loves us and seeks for us to live rightly in faith.