It’s probably a very good time to think carefully about the sacramental life of the church. I write in Holy Week as we approach the most important celebration for the church, that of Easter. The death and resurrection of Jesus lie at the heart of our faith and belief and the sacra mental life of the church is deeply rooted and connected to this. The two main sacraments of the church are baptism and holy communion.
BAPTISM as a sacrament is the initiation in to our journey of faith. Infant baptism remains an important rite of passage for not just church-going families but also for those who have for various reasons drifted away from church or are on the fringes of church.
Our outreach to the un-churched is often through requests for infant baptism as the connection to church of previous generations is remembered. Adult baptism is a way of connecting faith to church, of belonging and making a commitment to following Jesus.
HOLY COMMUNION (the Eucharist) is the other main sacrament. Jesus instituted the sharing of bread and wine as a way of representing himself as present in the lives of his disciples.
As we share in the Eucharist we are being obedient to his commandment and are sustained and strengthened for the continuing journey of faith. A shared meal is a celebration of fellowship and food to feed our needs.
The Eucharist is the 'main stay' of the life of the church and everything we do flows from a recognition of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us by his death, and how he provides healing, forgiveness and strength through his body and blood, symbolised by the bread and wine.
CONFIRMATION is another important sacrament. In previous generations, it was a natural rite of passage for teenagers and young people to re-affirm the baptism promises that were made on their behalf by godparents. It marked a maturing faith and a commitment to remaining faithful to Jesus and, significantly, it also marked the eligibility for admission to receiving Holy Communion. Today this still remains true, but the meaning of confirmation has become confused because the church has allowed a more relaxed approach to receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion.
The question we need to ask is how can confirmation be understood and used today? There are five possible scenarios. (1) As a way to affirm your growth to an adult faith if you were baptised as an infant and brought up in church. (2) As a way of renewing your commitment to Christ if you were baptised as an infant but drifted away from faith, and have now returned as an adult. (3) As an accompaniment to baptism, for someone coming to adult faith with no church background (ie never having been baptised). (4) As a way to mark your admission to Holy Communion. (5) As a way to join the Church of England from another church.
The first four of these scenarios are common ones and will apply to confirmation candidates. All reflect the sense of commitment and desire to follow the way of faith in Jesus. To be confirmed is a public declaration of faith and as the bishop prays the prayer; 'Confirm O Lord your servant with your Holy Spirit' and anoints them with the oil of Chrism there is a sense of personal blessing. There is also the connection to the wider church to which we belong. It's a solemn but joyful occasion and is the beginning of something new and exciting. I do ask that those who have not yet taken this step to consider doing so. Ifs relatively painless and there will be preparation offered to help candidates through the process.
Those who are new to church life often find the step into the sacramental life of the church somewhat daunting. This need not be so and to fully engage in the sharing of the Eucharist through the act of confirmation (or baptism with confirmation) enables a greater sense of belonging and participation in the life and fellowship of the church- recognised as the body of Christ.
The new fire of Easter eve brings light to the church as we prepare for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Day. That fire can ignite or re-kindle our own faith as we seek afresh God's saving grace.