What do the sacraments have to do with the mission of the church? At first glance, very little. Sacraments are ritualistic, confined within the walls of a church building on any given Sunday morning. The mission of the church is what happens afterwards, as we “go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.” We gather for the sacraments; we are sent into the world for mission.
Such a view, however, stops short of what I see in the sacraments as a powerful pull toward mission. How so?
The sacraments are an affirmation of God’s created world. In the earthy elements of water, bread, wine, and oil, God pledges to meet with his faithful people in a unique way. And so in this designated space, the physical and spiritual rush together into a heaven-and-earth reality that foreshadows God’s ultimate goal for his creation: “to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10).
In the last chapters of Revelation, we catch a glimpse of where all of history is heading: a wedding—indeed, the wedding of heaven and earth. In the end, the entire cosmos becomes one great and everlasting Sacrament where we experience the light and life of God in all of his creation. God’s mission, then, is for his creation to become a Sacrament for his people.
Of course, we know that God’s mission moves forward through the witness of his faithful people empowered by the Spirit. We are sent out into the world to pull the realities of heaven into the realities of earth, as we pray each day, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Yes, so that one day God will have reconciled “to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Col 1:20).
Each week we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ in the natural elements of bread and wine. In doing so, we encounter the living God. And then we rise from the rail reminded of our mission: to be the Body of Christ for the world. To die the death of Christ for the sake of others so that God’s mission will advance, so that heaven and earth will be one, and so that we will encounter the living God in all of life.
The Sacraments have a lot to do with the mission of the church.