“The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” So says the Book of Common Prayer, which serves as the primary source of the foundational theology of the Episcopal Church. This is a beautiful and oft-quoted definition of the sacraments, but what does it really mean? What does it mean that a sacrament is both a sign of grace and the means by which that grace becomes ours? Most importantly, what does it mean for us?
First, it means that sacraments are symbols. They use the ordinary stuff of life – water, bread, wine, oil, rings – to represent extraordinary things – everlasting life, the presence of the risen Christ, the movement of the Holy Spirit, covenantal love. The sacraments take place in a specific place and time, but the actions and prayers we offer in that place and time touch the eternal. The sacraments help us to see and know some small part of the transcendent love of the living God.
But the sacraments are more than just symbols; they are also the means by which God’s grace becomes clearly present to us. The sacraments, through their words and signs and ritual actions, become moments when the presence of Christ in our world reaches a particular condensation point, and we can feel that presence in water poured upon our heads, in bread and wine taken into our bodies, in the smell of holy oil and the laying on of hands.
What this means for us is that the sacraments offered by the Church are effective—they change something about our relationships with God and our relationships with each other. Through the sacraments, our identities as children of God are enriched and made more real, and our kinship with our neighbors, our sisters and brothers in Christ, is strengthened and confirmed.
At the Church of the Atonement, we live the fullness of the sacramental life. Holy Baptism, offered regularly in our public worship, strengthens and grows the community of the faithful, the Church. Daily Mass renews and refreshes us for our ministry. Confirmation connects us to the larger Episcopal Church and reinforces our identity as a part of the Body of Christ in the world. The Rite of Reconciliation helps us to reorient our lives towards Christ, and repent and return to the Lord. Anointing of the sick brings God’s healing touch to our bodies. Marriage binds two people to one another as a witness of God’s never-failing love for each of us. Ordination to Holy Orders marks some of us as servants of God’s Church, appointed to lead the Church in mission and worship and to serve the ministry of all the faithful.
The sacraments of the Church are open to you. If you are interested in learning more about the sacraments at Atonement, please contact Mother Erika.