I’ll admit it: the word “ordinance” isn’t exactly exciting to me. It sounds like rule following and multi-step checklists and …. yep, that was my mind wandering away just there. But here I am, writing about the ordinances of the church which are actually something else entirely. Throughout history, the various branches of Christianity have interpreted the acts of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in different ways. This article isn’t about why Christ Chapel celebrates baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the ways that we do (click here if you want to know that). Instead, I’m here to talk about how these traditions link followers of Jesus together and keep our eyes on Him.
Now, this may feel like a wild left turn, but have you ever been in a big room when someone uttered the words “Texas A&M”? I just heard it! Someone whooped reading that last sentence. If you’ve never experienced it, let me explain. Upon hearing that one name in a conversation, sermon, meeting, etc. (the location really doesn’t matter), graduates of Texas A&M University often let out a “whoop” kind of noise. Now, there could be any number of differences between the whooping Aggies in that room (how they ended up at A&M, what major they picked, what dorm they lived in, when they graduated and on and on), but in the moment when someone says the name of their school and they collectively whoop, all those differences are eclipsed as they realize the one major thing they have in common.
Stay with me here, but that’s kind of similar to how ordinances connect believers across countries, cultures and periods of history. You see, both the act of getting baptized and taking the Lord’s Supper tell the world a bigger story about us and Jesus. They’re both outward symbols of the inner reality that we believe Jesus is God and that He has saved us from our sins, redeemed us and is restoring us day by day to who He made us to be.
For Jesus, baptism looked like stepping into a river around the age of 30 and being baptized by his cousin, John (Matthew 3:13; Mark 1:9). For me, it was stepping into a tank around the age of 10 and being baptized by the pastor of my church. I remember wearing some kind of white robe and wondering how long I was going to be under the water … would I be flailing when I came up? We follow in Jesus’ footsteps to tell the world the difference He has made in our lives.
The tradition of the Lord’s Supper began when Jesus took the deeply-rooted tradition of Israel’s Passover meal and told His disciples that He was the fulfillment of everything it represented. Israelites had carried down the celebration as a remembrance of how God delivered them out of slavery in Egypt. Jesus now, with bread and wine, was declaring that He was about to ultimately deliver them from sin and death with His own life.
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” -Matthew 26:26-29
“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus says in Luke 22:19, and so we do. To remind ourselves that Jesus is our strength and sustenance. To acknowledge that He has already done everything required for our sins to be forgiven. We take and eat, take and drink to remember Jesus, His sacrifice and His promise that one day we’ll be together celebrating eternal life and the end of death.
I grew up in a church where my experience with baptisms was a tank above the choir loft. The Lord’s Supper was plates of plastic cups stacked on top of each other, one with a cracker and one with a squirt of grape juice. The church I went to in college was really similar. Then I moved to Paris (as many of my stories go) and found a home at The American Church in Paris. Name aside, it was the most international place I’ve ever been. In my time there I got to know people from France, England, Kenya, Germany, Hungary, Ohio, Ghana, the Czech Republic, Washington. It was a gloriously wide swath of cultures and church experiences, but we all had one thing in common: Jesus.
Because the ACP family was so diverse, the leaders of the church wove together different elements of various church backgrounds. We sang the same contemporary songs I’d sung at my college church. We ended our pastoral prayer time by saying the Lord’s Prayer together. We walked down an aisle to the front of the church for the Lord’s Supper, picking up a piece of bread and dipping it in cup as someone said, “This is Christ’s body broken for you. This is Christ’s blood shed for you.”
The experience of being surrounded by followers of Jesus from so many places and backgrounds taught me that Jesus is the point, and these practices of baptism and Lord’s Supper connect us. They are an unspoken, but shared language between people who could otherwise be strangers. And so, anytime I watch someone be baptized, I remember myself as a young girl and I think about how God is still at work in my life. Anytime I take the Lord’s Supper, I think about the night Jesus flipped the script and made a way for me by dying on a cross. I remember my church in Paris and I look ahead to the day we’ll celebrate together because death is no more.
Across the globe, God’s family is united by these acts and Holy Spirit inside us, beckoning us onward together. We may pass a plate of plastic cups, we may walk down an aisle. We may get baptized in a river or in a climate-controlled tank, but with it all, we are declaring that Jesus has made a way and we’re following Him on it. We are His people and these practices link us together.