Grace is a word that Christians use to describe the gift of God’s love in their lives. It is forgiveness. It is strength to live life differently. It is the consoling presence of our Lord in times of difficulty and distress. We cannot earn this gift. We cannot command this gift. We can only receive it in gratitude.
Grace is God’s love. God’s gift of grace nurtures and strengthens us in our Christian walk. The gift of grace assists to live life in more Christlike ways and strengthens our orientation on God. In effect, grace gives us an attitude adjustment.
Sometimes we experience grace as God’s presence. Other times we don’t feel anything yet know our resolve is strengthened and our hope in Christ is grown. Sometimes we feel the reception of God’s gift of grace and other times we do not, even if we recognize it’s effect. Grace is hard to describe but easy to experience. Once experienced it is understood, but easily forgotten. Grace is forgotten in the moment we turn away from God and immediately remembered when we return to God. Understanding Grace is the key to understanding Sacraments and Anglican worship services.
The Irish have an expression to describe places where heaven and earth seem closer. Places where heaven seems to almost break through into this world. The expression “the air is thin there” reflects the experience of so many people who experience the presence of God in nature. Whether it’s standing on a mountain top gazing over the grandeur of a chain of mountain peaks, gazing into a glorious sunset, or into the eyes of a newborn baby, almost everyone has been in a place of thin air and sensed the closeness of God. When we open our hearts to God in these moments these places are sacramental for us as we receive God’s grace.
Sacraments are ways that God has provided us to receive Grace. The definition of a Sacrament is “an outward visible sign of an inward invisible grace”. Sacraments are not the only way to receive grace. All of creation is God’s making and possible means of receiving grace. We can meet God anywhere and at any time.
Opinions vary as to the number of Sacraments. All sacramental churches accept the two sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion that everyone may participate in. Many churches recognize an additional 5 sacraments that many participate in. These include confirmation, marriage, anointing of the sick, reconciliation (or confession and absolution), and ordination. These are sometimes called “lesser sacraments”
Sacraments are God’s established means of receiving Grace. Baptism and Holy Communion are sometimes called Dominical Sacraments because Jesus gave them to us. (Dominical is latin for “of a lord”. Dominical Sacraments are literally “The Lord’s Sacraments”) Baptism is the grace for the beginning of our journey and Holy Communion is grace for the journey.
Liturgical Churches like the Anglican Church typically follow the ancient pattern of worship that includes the weekly celebration of Holy Communion as the high point of the worship service. Our earliest historical record of Christian Worship is the “Didache” and dates to around 90 – 105 AD and makes clear that Eucharist (or Holy Communion) was an essential and core part of the church’s worship. Later documents also include this focus.
Anglican Sunday Worship
Churches that have a significant focus on Holy Communion understand it to be both a sign and means of God’s Grace, while churches that believe Holy Communion is a sign but not a means of God’s Grace understandably tend to have communion infrequently and as an add on to the regular service.
Anglican Sunday Worship in our prayer books is titled “The Order for the Administration of The Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, commonly called The Holy Eucharist”. This makes clear the focus of the service and that it is centered in the celebration of Holy Communion. In a future post I will describe the flow and structure of the service and it’s four main components. These are
- Gathering of the Community
- Liturgy of the Word
- Holy Communion
- Dismissal of the Community
One criticism of liturgical churches is that a strong focus on Holy Communion can result in a lowered focus on Holy Scripture. This is sometimes the case. Anglican churches strive for a robust focus on Scripture, marked by excellent preaching, within the celebration of Holy Communion. The very structure of the service includes a focus on Scripture and reflects the high value Anglican’s historically place on God’s word.