Going through the Small Catechism with my son has had me reflecting a bit on how we view Baptism and Communion. The common perception of Baptism and Communion as sources of forgiveness, grace, and salvation are helpful. They tell us what God does for us on an eternal scale. The whole history of God’s salvation is distilled into what God does for us in the sacraments. So much of what God does for His people is telling them about their future with Him. The Promised Land of Israel, the holy city of Jerusalem, the Temple built by Solomon all foreshadow our eternity in God’s kingdom. This is our future in the resurrection brought by Christ. This is what we look forward to because of the forgiveness won for us by Christ.
What’s interesting is when we start looking at what Luther says about the sacraments. Regarding Baptism, Luther says, “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” Through Baptism, God makes a promise to me regarding what will happen to me when I do. Eternal life is mine for death will not hold me any more than it did Christ. A big part of Christian life is looking to the future and the fulfillment of God’s promises. We recognize we have no permanent home here and we await the arrival of God’s kingdom and everything that goes with it.
When we think about the sacraments, that’s usually the sort of thing we emphasize. The sacraments bring grace and forgiveness which grants us eternal life. It’s all good stuff and the fact that the Bible makes clear the sacraments offer these things also means they are integral to what the sacraments are here for. After all, without God’s grace we’re all lost.
At the same time, we shouldn’t over look the other things the sacraments do. Once Christ returns I won’t really have to worry about Satan at all. The Bible also makes pretty clear what’s going to happen to him. However, right now Satan is a rather big concern. There’s a reason Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We wouldn’t pray for these things if we didn’t need them now. God is not just concerned about our eternal destination but also our present situation in the sinful world.
Modern baptisms in the Lutheran church have generally omitted the exorcism that used to be a part of the baptismal rite. Thinking about demons and the idea that I or my children might be under the sway of a demon makes us all rather uncomfortable. Yet, there’s a reason this was emphasized, because that’s part of what Baptism does. Through the sacraments, God is already at work healing us in body and soul in this mortal life. In a world full of division and strife, God creates unity and community as He brings brothers and sisters together around His table. All are equal and all are blessed at His table. Certainly these things have eternal significance, but their effects begin and are felt right here. This is why Luther also notes in his questions preparing one for Communion says, “But what should you do if you are not aware of this need [to take Communion] and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament? Answer: To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and in 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, and the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.”
All of these things are things I need and all are things that affect me now. The blessings of God are all encompassing. My life in eternity isn’t disconnected from my life now. I am already living my eternal life now. Death already has no hold over me. I am already baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. My life begins here and God’s grace is already at work here. Communion is something I continue to need because the work God does in and through it is needed today.