A young man, skinny as a rail, makes his way to the front of the church during the hymn of decision, and for him the decision has not come easily. He has examined his world of commitment, belief, and action, as well as the biblical account of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection, and has concluded in his late 20s that this faith is the real thing, that he wants to become a Christian.
His eyes grow wide with interest and fear, however, as he observes the part-time preacher who is about to baptize him standing in the hallway with a duck call in his hand, his waders half-on. The young preacher, smiling, announces, “I wondered where I’d put this call. It’s been hidden in the right boot of my waders all season!”
As the two approach the baptistery it becomes apparent the deacon appointed to heat the water on this cold December morning has failed to do so. The water is about 40 degrees. The candidate’s eyes, now saucer-sized, betray second and third thoughts about his decision, and as he rises from the baptismal waters, he shouts “Whooooa!” at the top of his capable lungs. Some congregants conclude the Holy Spirit has arrived. Others believe they are in the wrong church.
There is an oddness to this faith. When we join a local service organization, it is not uncommon to receive a handshake, words of recognition, and, in time, a plaque or two. When we join the Lord’s church, we’re nearly drowned, sometimes in cold water. We have been told we’re not paying for our sins, and rightly so, but sometimes we wonder.
And when we gather around this table, we share a meal hardly the size of a snack, yet so full of meaning and potential as to reshape hearts and minds, alter behavior, and transform all of life itself. In the same Epistle where he offers a word of instruction about Holy Communion, the apostle Paul teaches us that the Christian faith is Spirit-taught and Spirit-understood:
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We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words (1 Corinthians 2:12, 13, New International Version, 1984).
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If our eating and drinking seems odd to some, don’t worry. It should be so. The Spirit at work in this place is, after all, altogether different from the spirit of this world.
Neal Windham is professor of New Testament and Christian spiritual formation at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University.