Grace means gift – God’s gift to us of love and blessing that we neither earn nor deserve. God offers us grace before we are even aware that we are in need of it; and God already loves us fully, before we even do anything to respond to him.
We often think of someone being graceful or moving with a quality of grace, like a dancer. That image conveys a sense of fluidity, ease, motion, even beauty. When we are on the receiving end of God’s grace we gain that sense of moving through life with greater ease and dignity because we know that we are loved to our very depths.
The word peace appears nearly three hundred and fifty times in the Bible. It is far more than the absence of war or strife. Nor is merely a polite “go along to get along” attitude. Peace is a state of wholeness and balance that comes from being in a right relationship with God and with neighbor – and within oneself. The ancient Hebrew word for peace was “shalom”, meaning wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety, prosperity, and serenity for an individual and for the community. It is still used as a greeting in modern Judaism. Peace is a positive state; the way God wants us to be. It is a value that is expressed in one of the blessings in our services: “The Peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The Book of Common Prayer defines a sacrament as “an outward and visible sign of God’s inner and spiritual grace.” They convey the generous and gracious love of God to us (inner and spiritual) by tangible means (outward and visible).
The Church has two primary sacraments – baptism and Eucharist. The outward sign of baptism is water and the sign of the Cross made with chrism (blessed oil); the inner grace is new life in Christ. In eucharist the outward sign is the bread and wine, and the inner grace is participation in God and being at one with fellow believers.
Five other sacramental rites are available in the Episcopal Church and are all vehicles of God’s grace, but are not rites that every Christian will necessarily be part of: Confirmation, Marriage, Reconciliation (private confession), Ordination, and Anointing at the Time of Death (“last rites”).
The word sacrament has to do with making something holy. The outward, tangible part of a sacrament reminds us that God uses the good creation he has made to be an avenue of divine grace and blessing for us.
Sin has to do with separation from God, from others, and from our true selves (as God intended us to be). It is a quality of mind and heart that is alienated from God, sometimes in rebellion against God’s will and purpose for us. Sin is the large-scale human predilection to want our own way, rather than God’s way, to put ourselves at the center of the universe. It is also the words and actions we take that have real-world consequences of pain, harm, and degradation. There is no one without sin in their life in some way.
Sometimes sin is a clear and deliberate choice. Much more frequently, sin is the atmosphere or milieu all around us that seems almost invisible yet influences what we do and what we say. It only can be addressed when we can see another’s hurt and pain and ask “Why is this happening? What is causing it?” and not accept a simplistic answer.
That is why our service of baptism asks the baptismal candidate (or the parents and godparents) to renounce evil on several different levels: cosmic/spiritual, systems of human society, personal (BCP, page 302). The remedy for sin is to turn to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to put one’s whole trust in his grace and love; and to follow and obey him as Lord. This is a life-long project, call, and vocation – to follow Christ, and to grow in Christ-likness.