Seventh Conversion | The Sacraments
Updated: Mar 13
I met a Priest once who's absolute thrill in life was to stand behind the altar and celebrate Communion. Many years previous to that he had encountered the living presence of God in a powerful way at the altar while visiting a church in Germany.
"I didn't know a word they were saying," he told me. "But the power of the Holy Spirit overcame me and I was converted."
Today he's still behind the altar each and every Sunday morning doing the same thing that got him going so many years ago. So that sort of makes sense, really. We usually don't too far away from the places where God first met us.
For some, some of those places might be baptism. For others, marriages, rites of healing, and other sacramental rites. Whatever the rite, for these folks, it is right.
A number of Christians get saved in para-denominational church, wade around a bit, and a few years later find themselves in pretty traditional places. Despite the limitations of not having "free worship," a casual seek-friendly atmosphere, or really good coffee you'll often hear them say something like, "I came to this place because I missed the depth and mystery of the ageless church," or - and pertinent to this conversation - "I missed the sacraments."
There are two main sacraments of the church (Baptism and Holy Communion). There are also five other expressions of faith that look like sacraments but are a tad below them in divine participation. We call these sacramental rites. They consist of Confirmation, Ordination, Marriage, Last Rites, and Penance (or, forgiveness of sin). For those who have been converted to the sacramental ministry of the church, sacraments are an essential source of spiritual nutrition.
Sacraments come with a lot of other benefits, too. Participants in sacramental churches get immersed in a stream that's been running through the ages from Abraham onwards. They are streams of ritual, priests, form, liturgy, and eucharist. "Liturgy" is rightly defined as "the work of the people." This means that going to church isn't always a holy-ghost-goose-bumped kind of experience (though it can be). More-so it is a time when God's people gather, lift up sacrificial praises and prayers, and press into elements of the liturgy as if they were "working through it" to the praise of his glorious name. To them the important thing is that God gets glory. In fact they believe that they are actually participating in a cosmic link up with all the other people of all the other ages (past, present, and - yes - future) who are all doing sacramental liturgy at the same time. They don't care if the sermon was good, or if the music was anointed, or even if there was a baby goat peeing in the corner (this happened to my by-the-way when I was in a church in Uganda). The important thing is that God get's glorified, in spite of it all.
Once the liturgy bug bites you you'll always be dissatisfied worshipping outside the mainline church.
Anne B. Davis, the maid on the old show, "The Brady Bunch," was a staunch Episcopalian who got saved. Shortly after her conversion she was reading the Bible one day and looked up, astonished. "I had no idea how much of the Book of Common Prayer was in the this thing!"
The deal with sacramental ministry is that it is by-and-large selfless. You're not in it for yourself, your healing, your spiritual buzz, or anything. Your goal is to solely to esteem God, worship him, and lift him up. In sacramental worship you will find elements of forgiveness, and personal infilling of the Holy Spirit, of course. (That comes naturally when lifting up the name of Jesus and exalting God Almighty in the Throne Room.) Yet it is not the main thing. The main thing is bowing before his majesty and ministering to God from the center of our beings and expressing the reality of his Live in us through these outward appearances we call the Sacraments.
If you are a sacramentalism you'll most finally find your sweet-spot around the altar. If you are ordained, that's a given. If not, you'll scratch that itch by helping with the Altar Guild, chancel ministry, acolyting, and so on. Sacramental ministry is a glorious place to be in the Holy Place. It is selfless, God-drivvin, and sees the sacraments as major avenues wherein the power and presence of God is rarely absent.
And, while fairly predictable in their presentation, there IS great power in sacramental ministry. I know of one woman who was delivered of her addiction of heroin when the took Communion. I know of a man who, when taking the bread, was only then able to forgive a family member. And all that without asking God for anything, only coming to him selflessly and worshipping him through these mysterious ancient rites.