By Nathaniel Brown
Dear saints of Jesus, the entire church service is for you. But if you are anything like I was when I was growing up, your mind often wanders during church, even during the sermon, even when your pastor announces that your sins are forgiven. Maybe you’re thinking about homework you still have to do before Monday, or how you need to go to work right after church, and you hope your pastor doesn’t preach too long. Or maybe you are paying attention, but when he says that certain sins are removed from you, you think that you haven’t committed that particular sin, so your mind focuses on others you think might have. Yes, our attention can be easily distracted. But God, in His infinite grace and mercy, has given you things that you can pay attention to because they are for you.
God has given Gifts to His Church to distribute to the saints individually. These Gifts are what we call the Sacraments. As you remember from confirmation classes, the Sacraments have the promise of forgiveness attached to them, and are connected to an earthly element. So in the Lutheran Church, there are two Sacraments. Through these Gifts, God gives His grace to you, for you.
REMEMBERING YOUR BAPTISM
All of you were born, and we rightfully celebrate that every year on your birthday. But for you, dear Christians, your birthday is not as important as your baptismal birthday. John 3:16 says that God loves the world, but when you became a baptized child of God that Good News for Jesus was for you. When you were baptized, the pastor put water on you and made the sign of the cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.
There are plenty of ways to remember your Baptism. When you sin throughout the week (daily and much) and you feel bad about it, you can take a bath or shower, and with the water touching you, you can remember that God brought you into His family. You can make the sign of the cross then, too, to remind yourself that you have been bought by Jesus’ shedding His blood on the Cross for you. And when you go to church, you can sometimes see others be baptized, and you can rejoice that they are brought into God’s family, and also remember that you, too, have been baptized. When you approach the altar, you can place your hand on the baptismal font, even if you are visiting another church, because the font is where you were saved! Dear saints, the Gospel is for all people, but it is for you specifically because the baptismal water has touched you. Baptism truly is one of God’s Gifts of grace that cannot be denied.
APPROACHING THE ALTAR
The other Sacrament that is for you is Holy Communion. Because of that distractible mind of yours, you might pray the Lord’s Prayer without really thinking about it. And yet, when you approach the altar of God, everything comes into focus. Your pastor comes and gives you bread and says: “Take and eat, the very body of our Lord Jesus Christ, given unto death for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” Jesus gives you His entire body in the bread, and this gift is for you. And then your pastor or an elder who is helping follows closely behind brings wine and says: “Take and drink, the true blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” It is hard to have your mind wander around when Jesus has come to you with His own Body and Blood given for you for the forgiveness of your sins. When you commune, you kiss the Son (Psalm 2:12) and Jesus comes. Not in a general sense, but in a very specific sense. Jesus, in the bread and wine. For you.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Besides these two Sacraments, there is another place that Jesus comes for you: Holy Absolution. Many of you hear the pastor speak the words of Absolution at the beginning of the divine service. But as soon as your pastor says I forgive you all of your sins, you may wonder if he really meant all your sins. Maybe you have thought that Jesus wouldn’t forgive you if He knew that sin you have hidden from everyone. He already knows and that is why your pastor would be glad to have you stop into his office and ask him to do private confession and Absolution. The sins that you are burdened by are still forgiven. Confessing those sins, and then having your pastor place his hand on you and forgive even that sin in the stead of Christ makes Him and His love for you that much more personal.
Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution are God’s Gifts and your pastor is the one who gives those Gifts to you. So in reality, your pastor is also for you. So many gifts for you from such an abundantly gracious God!
Rev. Nathaniel Brown is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Bellingham, MN, Trinity Lutheran Church in Odessa, MN, and Grace Lutheran Church in Correll, MN. He enjoys reading in his small amount of free time, and his favorite book of the Bible right now is Isaiah.