UNDERSTANDING THE SACRAMENTS
Jesus instituted two sacraments which are recorded in the pages of the New Testament: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. For the early Christians, the sacraments were not just memorials of Christ’s saving work but representations of His work that should be a means of grace through faith and the power of the Holy Spirit. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are dramatizations of the Word that is proclaimed, appealing to sight, touch, taste and sound. In this way, they become the sacrament of encounter with God.
“Sacrament” is derived from a Latin word meaning “something sacred.” The word was also used in military and judicial settings to mean “to swear an oath.” For a Roman soldier living in the times of the Roman Empire, it meant “to swear an oath of allegiance” to the Emperor.
In the New Testament, the Sacraments are affirmations of faith on the part of the believing person and recognition of God’s covenant of grace with us as His people (Colossians 2:6-15; Ephesians 2:1-10).
The Sacrament of Baptism
At His own baptism, Jesus was attested by God the Father and was anointed by the Holy Spirit to undertake His ministry of teaching, preaching, healing, suffering, death, and resurrection. As the risen Lord, He assured His followers of His continuing presence and power and commissioned them,
“Go make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I Am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
In baptism, we participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We die to what separates us from God and are raised to newness of life in Christ. Like the disciples, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to undertake a life of witness and service and are included in the Church as the Body of Christ. In baptism we are united with Christ and the Covenant Community of Faith in every time and place. Just as there is only one body, there is only one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-6). We recognize all baptisms with water in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit administered by other Christian churches.
The Scriptures teach that both believers and their children are included in God’s covenant love (Acts 2:38-39; 16:31-33). Children of believers are to be baptized just as adults who come to faith are baptized. Parents are asked to reaffirm their faith and promise to raise their children within the teachings of Christ and His Church. Through the New Covenant of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, baptized children and adults are kept by the power of God. In essence, God gives us His promise to bring a baptized child into a believing, personal relationship with Himself as early as possible (John 10:14-18).
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper has its origin in the Last Supper when Jesus observed Jewish Passover with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-23). Jesus presented Himself as the fulfillment of the Passover lamb, slain for the deliverance of God’s people. In speaking of His own sacrifice as “the New Covenant in my blood,” He presents Himself in His death upon the cross as the sacrificial atonement for our sins (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; II Corinthians 5:14-21).
In His last meal with His disciples, Jesus reinterpreted the bread and cup of the Passover symbolically and spiritually as His broken body and shed blood upon the cross. As Presbyterian Christians in the tradition of John Calvin, we believe that Christ is spiritually rather than bodily present in the bread and the cup. As we partake of Him, we are nourished spiritually and strengthened in faith. In so doing we meet Christ in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Table and celebrate our communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit along with Christians in all times and places.
West Isle Presbyterian Church observes the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on first Sundays of the month as well on Maunday Thursday of Holy Week.