Thursday, February 9, 2012

Visible Words

Visible Words: Holy Baptism
Jesus’ words of institution are found in Matthew 28:18-20. When Jesus came near, he spoke to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to do everything I have commanded you. And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.”
Disciples of Jesus are not self-made, but are those who have been baptized and taught the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Scripture tells us that God’s Word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). We are taught the Word of God in spoken or written form. We are given the Word of God as a Visible Word in the water of Holy Baptism: because of his mercy he saved us through the washing in which the Holy Spirit gives us new birth and renewal (Titus 3:5). This passage (see also Ezekiel 36:25-27, Romans 6:3-5, Colossians 2:11-13) clearly teaches that in Holy Baptism God acts powerfully and decisively on our behalf, doing what only God can do, i.e. forgiving sins, saving from death, granting new birth and renewal in the Holy Spirit by joining us to Jesus’ death and resurrection. We call this supernatural event baptismal regeneration, fulfilling Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “If anyone isn’t born of water and the Spirit, he can’t get into God’s Kingdom….you must all be born from above” (John 3:5, 7).

The hymns of the Church also reflect that Baptism grants Jesus’ blessing:

Cradling children in His arm, Jesus gives His blessing.
To our babes a welcome warm He is yet addressing.
Take them, Lord, give life anew in the living waters!
Keep them always near to You as Your sons and daughters!
Hymnal Supplement 98 #843

The church fathers also extol the power and blessing of this Visible Word:

Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift…
We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift.
It is call gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own;
grace since it is given even to the guilty;
Baptism because sin is buried in the water;
anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed;
enlightenment because it radiates light;
clothing since it veils our shame;
bath because it washes;
and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship.
(St. Gregory of Nazianzus)

Visible Words: Holy Communion

Jesus’ words of institution are recorded by St. Paul:
I passed on to you what I had received from the Lord: On the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread and spoke a prayer of thanksgiving. He broke the bread and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” When supper was over, he did the same with the cup. He said, “This cup is the new promise made with my blood. Every time you drink from it, do it to remember me.” (I Cor. 11:23-25)
In “Mere Christianity” C.S. Lewis put it like this, “It explains why this new life is not spread by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion. It is not merely the spreading of an idea; it is more like evolution—a biological or super-biological fact. There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.”
In Martin Luther’s Large Catechism, we read, “It is true, indeed, that if you take away the Word or regard it without the words, you have nothing but mere bread and wine. But if the words remain with them, as they shall and must, then, in virtue of the same, it is truly the body and blood of Christ. For as the lips of Christ say and speak, so it is, as He can never lie or deceive.”

The hymns of the Church clearly confess Christ’s real presence:

What is this bread? Christ’s body risen from the dead:
This bread we break, this life we take,
Was crushed to pay for our release.
Oh, taste and see—the Lord is peace.

What is this wine? The blood of Jesus shed for mine;
The cup of grace brings His embrace
of life and love until I sing!
Oh, taste and see – the Lord is King.

Yet is God here? Oh, yes! By Word and promise clear.
In mouth and soul He makes us whole –
Christ, truly present in this meal,
Oh, taste and see – the Lord is real.

Is this for me? I am forgiven and set free!
I do believe that I receive His very body and His blood,
Oh, taste and see – the Lord is good.
Hymnal Supplement 98 #850

The church fathers also extol the power and blessing of this Visible Word:
Every time this mystery is celebrated, “the work of our redemption is carried on” and we “break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ.” -- Ignatius of Antioch

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