Preaching Baptism and Eucharist

Underwater photo of woman being baptized by full immersion
Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

Sacraments and preaching are not separate liturgical practices; they work together to serve the Word embodied. The sacraments—in my tradition, Baptism and Eucharist—in a congregation offer equally important resources that preserve and form Christian identity.

Historically, communal experiences of baptism and eucharist were pivotal resources, along with Scripture, for preaching. In the late fourth century, the bishops preached the mysteries of baptism and eucharist to new believers. Cyril of Jerusalem is the one who is renowned for this preaching: Mystagogy homily. Firmly relying on Scripture, the bishops deepened the experience of Baptism and Eucharist, leading them to thrive in the Christian life.

Mystagogy homily in Egeria’s diary

In her diary, the Spanish nun Egeria offers an eyewitness account of the catechumenal process, the rites of Christian initiation, and the week of postbaptismal homilies in Jerusalem. Egeria’s diary of a pilgrim describes the shape of fourth-century Christian initiatory rites. She describes her experience during Easter week, especially the week after the baptism.

Egeria illustrates the responses of the baptized to hearing the bishop’s explanation of the meaning of Baptism: “The bishop relates what has been done, and interprets it, and, as he does so, the applause is so loud that it can be heard outside the church. Indeed, the way he expounds the mysteries and interprets them cannot fail to move his hearers.” In Egeria’s illustrations of Lent, the mystagogic preaching seems to be the climax of the Christian initiation since the baptized finally understand the meaning of baptism and integrate their knowledge and experience.

What I am focusing on is not the excitement of the newly baptized. What draws my attention is a possibility of preaching communal experiences of baptism and eucharist. While preaching Scripture alone often neglects to pay attention to the spatial and temporal gaps between the written text and current audience, preaching Baptism and Eucharist may integrate the experiences of the past (as recorded in Scripture) with the experiences of the current congregation. Preaching the sacraments enlivens the Paschal mystery, which encompasses ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ, and invites the baptized to be the body of Christ to serve the world.

Three steps for preaching Baptism and Eucharist

There are various ways in which you can preach Baptism and the Eucharist. You can be creative as much as you can. For example, stand next to the baptismal font and pour water while describing your congregation’s recent experiences of baptism. Walk to the communion table while illustrating a particular ministry of Jesus, such as feeding the five thousand, the wedding at Cana, or the Last Supper. Yet, remember that it’s not a catechetical class; but it’s preaching the Good News that your congregation wants to hear from you. As guidance, here I provide you three steps to preaching baptism and the Eucharist.

  • Begin with the elements
    Baptism needs water, so does bread and wine for the Eucharist. Explain what these earthly elements mean to us. From the water comes life and the life is sustained by the table where we break the bread and drink the cup. Choose one or two images related to water, such as the sea, river, rain, well, and womb, and illustrate them with specific experiences within your congregation. Or you can invoke particular moments at the table. In this way, you draw your congregation’s attention to the invisible grace embedded within the visible, earthly elements of baptism and the Eucharist.
  • Signify rituals
    Signify meanings embedded in the rituals of Baptism and the Eucharist. There is a variety of baptismal and eucharistic rituals and the rituals vary denominationally and locally. The rituals may include renunciation of evil, profession of faith, water baptism, anointing of oil, clothing with a baptismal garment, holding the candle, and partaking in communion. Each ritual carries spiritual meaning. Select one or two rituals and describe what they look like, sound like, smell like, and feel like. Finally, explain what the ritual signifies in terms of spiritual meaning(s) within the trajectory of the Paschal mystery.
  • Juxtapose
    Now, connect the spiritual meanings you’ve uncovered with both Scripture and the experiences of your congregation. Juxtaposing these meanings with scripture passages and your congregation, you will discover a Good News God wants you to preach. Juxtaposition will give you harmony yet conflict as well; your job as a preacher is to pray and name Good News that emerges mysteriously between harmonies and conflicts. 

We are approaching Holy Week, which leads us on a path to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection at Easter through Calvary. As Lent comes to an end, Christians pray and fast while reflecting the meaning of ministry, death, resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is the perfect timing for preaching Baptism and Eucharist because it is the season that the baptized renew their memories of baptism and new believers will participate in those memories. Interwoven with sacramental, embodied, and communal rituals, preaching Baptism and Eucharist in the weeks that come will refresh your congregation with sacramental experiences and deepen their spiritual meanings.