Experiencing Christ…..Each Friday I gather with 4 other women for fellowship, Bible study, and accountability. What a joy it is to “know and be known, love and be loved, admonish and be admonished, serve and be served, and celebrate and be celebrated” ! It has become a highlight of my week. This past week as we exchanged Christmas gifts, I experienced Christ, as I often do, present with us. One of the members of the group gave me a lovely shoulder bag she’d purchased in Israel a few years ago, along with a blue bottle filled with Jordan River water from that trip, as well. She had no way of knowing the treasure she was giving me. It reminded me of an occasion from 2013 when I celebrated a remembrance of baptism with about a dozen elderly women in a retirement center as we studied baptism. My pastor at the time had allowed me to borrow a small bottle of Jordan River water he keeps for special baptism services and cautioned me to use it with care. I had carried a small plastic pipette and some decorative paper napkins, too. And after each center resident and I had shared our remembrances of our baptisms, some from 70 or more years earlier, as tears flowed, I pipetted a few drops of the precious Jordan River water into the palms of each woman. Tears mixed with water in the hands of some. Some touched the water to their faces. Others rubbed it all over their hands. Then our hands were dried with the decorative napkins and we shared hugs and blessings as we parted.
Friday morning, after I opened my gift and told them the story of the baptism remembrance ritual with these elderly widows, each of us shared our baptism story with one another. We learned even more about one another and Christ’s work in our lives. Our hearts are being knit together through such moments together!
These experiences reveal the kind of sisterhood in Christ that Elizabeth and Mary experienced during the months when they shared in one another’s pregnancies in preparation for the birth of Christ.
If you are not sharing in life with others through small group fellowship and celebrating our shared lives in Christ through the sacraments regularly, I commend it to you for 2020!
The following is an account of sacramental experiences of Christ about which I wrote in 2013, the memory of which was sweetly brought to remembrance with the gift of the Jordan River water:
In celebrating Holy Communion, we remember the price Christ paid for us. And we are expressing our hope for His return and gratitude for our present relationship with Him.
It is a means of sanctifying grace. After a powerful experience of communion in 1997 at a Blue Lake Emmaus Walk, I would often come to communion very aware of my need for Christ and of my failings. The examination of conscience often found me convicted and approaching the table feeling broken once again. Then, a couple of years ago I had an experience as I knelt at the altar for communion, again at Blue Lake. As we knelt to receive the elements I felt a warm flowing feeling go over me and the words “wet clay” came firmly to my mind. I had the sense that God was telling me that I no longer had to continually come to communion in contrition and brokenness, that I had learned to listen to and obey Him so that brokenness would be less common and gentle molding would now be more the case. We not only receive communion, but it is something we do and something that we are. There are many aspects of communion: thanksgiving, Presence, feasting, sacrifice, remembrance, fellowship and unity in community on receiving.
I have reflected on my own baptism as a youth in a positive and meaningful way. Paragraph 216.1 refers to it as a sacrament of initiation and incorporation into the body of Christ. I have always thought of it as an “outward and visible sign” of an inner spiritual commitment to Christ. Now I understand it also in terms of commitment to the community of faith. Furthermore, Paragraph 340.2.b1b states that a pastor’s duties include encouraging reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant and renewal of baptismal vows at different stages of life. That has been important in my own life and I believe is valuable when infant baptism has been conducted, but no less so regardless of the age at which baptism has been done. A while ago, I conducted a celebration of baptism remembrance with a group of elderly widows participating in a Bible study at a UMC retirement center. Jordan River water was dropped into each woman’s hands with words of Scripture and prayer as we shared our remembrances of baptism with one another. We were moved to tears and felt the Spirit’s presence with us. It impressed me again with the power of baptism to connect us with God and one another.
( Written for an Asbury Seminary Class on Leading Worship -Dec. 31. 2013)