A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time you can see through to something deep inside time.
Generally speaking, Protestants have two official sacraments (the Lord’s Supper, Baptism) and Roman Catholics have these two plus five others (Confirmation, Penance, Extreme Unction, Ordination, and Matrimony). In other words, at such milestone moments as seeing a baby baptized or being baptized yourself, confessing your sins, getting married, dying, you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.
Needless to say, church isn’t the only place where the holy happens. Sacramental moments can occur at any moment, at any place, and to anybody. Watching something get born. Making love. A walk on the beach. Somebody coming to see you when you’re sick. A meal with people you love. Looking into a stranger’s eyes and finding out they are not a stranger’s.
If we weren’t blind as bats, we might see that life itself is sacramental.
I have always loved these words by Frederick Buechner. I found them in a book given to me by the committee that walked with me toward ordination. I used them when I found myself having to describe the power of sacraments to the first group of teenagers I led through confirmation. That seems like a long time ago now.
It wasn’t. In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t yet been ordained ten years. That was only 2007. It was a mere 8 years ago. Big freakin’ deal. But so much has happened since then. I have moved away from the ministry of that church. I have become the pastor of another. I fell in love and now I’m preparing to leave another church where each and every moment I can’t help but feel the “almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.”And let’s be honest, all of this feels a bit more poignant because I don’t know what is next. I don’t know if I’ll be pastoring a church. I don’t know what my ministry will look like. So everything in my senses is that much more heightened.
So, there are tears. Obviously. There are tears.
I’m trying to write a sermon about the mystery of baptism. I’m thinking about baptizing a child who is dear to me and to whom I’ll become a godparent in the midst of the ritual we’ll share. But, I can’t stop thinking about communion yesterday. In both services, I was wiping away tears as I tried to voice the liturgy. As I tried to proclaim the wholeness from our brokenness, my voice cracked as I looked into the faces of these people I love, these people I am leaving. In many ways, I’m ready to be done. I’m ready to conclude the work of this church — but I’m not quite ready to let go of the ministry of loving these people. So that I couldn’t help myself from thinking about the diagnoses I know about that have been trusted as prayers and the hurts that others have told me when they finally had the courage. I know that the work of the church will go on without me. I know that the ministry doesn’t hinge upon me (or any pastor). I know all of this. Too well.
But, it doesn’t stop me from wondering who will carry that prayer when I’m gone. It doesn’t stop me from worrying about how this church will learn to bear each other’s burdens and do the thing that most churches claim to do better than they actually do: tell the truth. It’s my prayer for this church and every church. I so hope that we will be broken open. That we will learn to repent and seek forgiveness. That we’ll stop arguing about the words but allow the experience to change us. And just be there for each other. Be there as Christ is there. Christ is always there. We’re just trying to catch up of the one going ahead of us. So that I suppose it makes sense to cry when breaking the bread and baptizing with water.