The Sacrament of Unity

Sunday by Sunday I visit parishes, usually to confirm and receive into our Church. These liturgies by their very nature have an ‘Episcopal specific’ nature, which is in fact explicit in the formula for reception: ‘we receive you into the fellowship of this Communion.’ For this reason, it is important to recall how the service begins, with a quotation for Ephesians 4: ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism…one God and Father of all.’  Baptism as our ecumenical sacrament is the launch-pad for everything else we have to say and pray (one might push back by observing that the baptism of infants remains a stumbling block to reunion, but at least the fact that we do not re-baptize adults is still a point of theological weight.) The great Anglo-Catholic hymn sang of the Eucharist as the ‘sacrament of unity,’ but it is baptism which is the primary symbol thereof for us. And it is good to think about this in the week between the Confession of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul, a time traditionally to focus on ecumenism.

But of course we are divided, by theology and Church tradition, sometimes by social issues and teaching, not to mention cultural acquiescence to sociology and consumer choice.  Yet in the face of this, the witness for unity of baptism remains, for we indeed have ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’ So my question is this: in what senses are we to understand this unity? I want to offer three brief answers (which track, I might add, the three uses of the Law, coincidentally).  First our unity is grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and not of our doing, or undoing. It is a gift. At a practical sense, when you are cheek to jowl with a fellow Christian you can’t abide, recall that Christ in giving you His grace has also given grace to your neighbor, this neighbor!

Secondly, we Anglicans have understood ourselves to have the charism of lack, of incompleteness, of yearning that we ‘all might be one.’ The theologian Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey spoke of our provisionality. To his mind, we as a Church exist for reunion, however distant it may now seem.  Perhaps this is the blessed side of the unresolved division of the Reformation, this impulse toward reunion. However all this also needs an enacted, feet on the ground expression.  We have sacrament of unity, alongside which we need a practice of unity. As a diocese we seek to live out this call to collegiality in a variety of ways, in consultation with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and by involvement with the Greater Dallas Coalition, for example. I know that many parishes have ties, formal and informal, with Churches nearby. By these acts of solidarity in Christ we seek to live out Paul’s and our words, rooted in grace: ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’



Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.