Here’s what it comes to: baptism is a celebration of all that Jesus has done for us. We do it, not in legalistic requirement but in joyful gratitude.
In Cuba, the average monthly salary is $7.00. $30.00 is an excellent salary. Yet things cost as much there as here—a bottle of water was $1.30, and I saw shoes for sale for $140.00. So they depend on the rice and beans given by the government, work two or three jobs, and barter with each other. They eat chicken once a month, and beef once a year.
Imagine our surprise at the meals they served us: fried chicken, ham, beef, even lobster. Wonderful banquets, each one. What if we sat down to such sacrificial meals with boredom, ate little or nothing, took for granted such gifts? Trust me, we did not. We ate each such meal with enormous gratitude for their sacrifice and love.
At baptism we celebrate Jesus’ love for us. Once we are baptized, we are to continue to do so, every day. To live every day as though it were our baptism day, in joy.
Why the Supper matters
Now let’s think about the second Baptist ordinance, the Lord’s Supper. Why does it matter? For three reasons.
First, the Supper unites us. The Corinthians were a divided church, but Paul knew that the Lord’s supper could unite them. As it does us.
When you visualize Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, da Vinci’s The Last Supper probably comes to mind. It’s a magnificent work of art. And completely wrong.
First-century Jews took their meals while lying around a slightly elevated U-shaped table, leaning on one elbow and eating with the other. Jesus was in the center, the disciples to each side. They each ate from a common loaf and drank from a common cup. They were united in the meal of their Lord.
Note the power of this unifying symbol. John the beloved disciple was on Jesus’ right. Do you know who was on his left, the other disciple to whom Jesus directly gave the bread and the cup? Judas. In the presence even of sin and betrayal, there was the unity of the meal of Jesus. And there should be for us.
Next, the Supper remembers Jesus. He told his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (v. 24, 25). When you take these very real elements, you remember the very real death of Jesus. His broken body, like this bread; his poured-out blood, like this cup. These elements cause us to remember that we are loved, that Jesus has died for us. The Supper remembers Christ. As we should, every day.
Last, the Supper witnesses to the world. He told us, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v. 26). Jesus is alive today. One day he’ll return for you and for me. The Supper shows the reality of our Lord and our faith to the world. As we should, every day.
Here we can learn from our Cuban sisters and brothers as well.
They are united in Jesus. We saw no racism at all, no gender disqualification; every man and every woman serving Jesus together.
They are totally focused on Jesus, and on sharing him. First Baptist Church in Camaguey has more than forty house churches and home Bible studies scattered around the city. First Baptist Church in Cespedes meets in a room the size of one of our Sunday school departments, but sponsors twenty-five mission churches around the country. They love Jesus, and they love remembering him and witnessing to him.
And their witness is courageous and sacrificial. The church in Camaguey is located four feet from the Communist headquarters in the city. In spite of governmental surveillance and oppression, they lift high their faith every day.
So should we.
So we close our series on Baptist beliefs with the most powerful symbols of our faith: our baptism and our Lord’s Supper. If you have not experienced them, I urge you to. Every time you watch and participate, do so with gratitude.
And live every day this week as though it were your baptism day, as though you were standing at the table of our Lord. With joyous faith, gratitude, and celebration.
Tony Campolo is a Baptist minister and professor of sociology, and one of the most thoughtful Christians I know. I once heard him tell about a trip he made to Hawaii for a speaking engagement.
Jet lag had him up at 3:00 in the morning. He walked to a tiny coffee shop near his hotel, a greasy spoon as he describes it. A man stood behind the counter, wearing a tight, sweaty t-shirt with cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve. Tony asked for coffee.
Just then some “women of the night” came in. Tony overheard one tell the others that tomorrow was her birthday. “Will you have a party?” someone asked. “No one ever gave me a birthday party,” she replied.
When they left, Tony told the cook, “Let’s give her a birthday party tomorrow night. I’ll get a present and the decorations if you’ll make a cake.” The man called his wife out from the back. They were surprised at the idea, but agreed to do it.
So the next night, 3:00 in the morning, when the women came back in, there were streamers everywhere. A present wrapped on the bar. A birthday cake. The “birthday girl” was overwhelmed. Tony took Polaroid pictures to give her. She wouldn’t let anyone touch the cake until she showed it to her mother.
In the midst of the party, the man who ran the counter asked Tony what he did for a living. “I’m a preacher,” he said. The man said, “You’re not a preacher. No preacher would do this. What church do you belong to?” Tony said, “I belong to a church which gives birthday parties to prostitutes.” And he does.
Jesus has paid for all our sins and failures, purchased our salvation, guaranteed us eternity in the glories of heaven together. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper picture his invitation to his party.