This is my sermon, preached on Palm Sunday/Confirmation. As a special note, my daughter was confirmed. Congratulations eldest daughter-o-mine!
But just what are we confirming? And to do it at the start of Holy Week makes for a multi-themed service that can confuse even the faithful. How to de-tangle it all? I take a stab, after the jump.
Today we rejoice with our confirmands. They have worked and studied. Today they will be confirmed and become communicant members of Trinity. They will taste our Lord’s body and blood for the first time. They wear white robes, they will make life altering promises that can only be kept, “By the grace of God.” Family and friends have come to see this momentous event.
And yet, today is not entirely a joyous occasion. The Gloria, the hallelujah, they are still missing from our service. Holy week begins today. We have daily services where we will hear the passion accounts according to saints Matthew, Mark and Luke. On Thursday, we hear of our Lord washing the disciple’s feet, on Friday, the service of darkness, as we hear the final passion account.
Today is a day of rejoicing, but rejoicing tempered by the events to come. The children waved their palms as we remembered the triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem. The crowds shouted and sang. Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. We enjoy hearing of the enthusiastic crowds, watching the joyful procession, as the children learn for themselves the events of holy week.
And yet, the boisterous crowds from Galilee are replaced by the angry crowds from Jerusalem. the shouts of Hosanna will melt away, only to become that single word: crucify! Today is a day of brief triumph before we make our way across the valley of the shadow of death that is holy week, to the mount of Golgotha – the place of the skull. Golgotha is not only the valley of death, but the mountain of death. Death stands supreme on the mountain of the skull, because the unthinkable happens – the creator himself, very son of God, the one who gave life to you, dies. Today is a day of rejoicing, but it is a weird kind of not-rejoicing rejoicing.
We think today of our catechumens, and we are glad for them, proud as we watch them make their vows to be faithful. And yet, even there, the joy is not complete. The last vow would give anyone pause. To expect it of children is almost heart-stopping. They will promise to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the faith. Not exactly great, glorious conversation.
Today they stand and confess their faith, and make their vows before God and his holy church. The vows make it seem like they are entering the armed forces of our Lord. But that’s not right. That already happened when they were baptized. In baptism they are marked with the sign of the holy cross, and Satan becomes their enemy. Today isn’t really about joining anything to which they don’t already belong. After all they are already members. They are already God’s children. So what is today about? Especially when we consider that we confirm them, and they vow to be ready to die for their faith. And they take this vow just as we are about to see Jesus the author of our faith go to his own death.
Today we see our Lord Jesus enter into the holy city. But this entrance is not to conquer, not to be an earthly king. Jesus himself knows that he will die. Jesus has always known that. He came to this world specifically to die. Not just any death, but the most horrible death. The death against which all other deaths are measured. The death that will defeat death.
On this day, we celebrate the entry of our young children into the church. Our two young catechumens are already part of church, but now they will come forward and receive the medicine of immortality. They have been instructed and have shown that they can consider their place in life according to ten commandments, they can examine themselves as scripture our confessions say, have been taught and know that in sacrament the body and blood of Christ are truly present, distributed and received. Not just a symbolic, or even just a spiritual, presence as we think about his death, but the real presence of Jesus, come to them in his body and blood for their salvation, just as the word was made flesh and dwelt among us and was crucified, so that same flesh is now given to them to eat and drink for the salvation of their souls. They will confess that, yes, this church teaches rightly, and they will confess all of this publicly.
But their confession is really nothing, any more than your confession is anything. It is to you. To you it is very important. But that confession in and of itself does not save. Yes, one must confess Jesus to be Lord in order to be saved. But one must not think that one is saved because one confesses Jesus as Lord. Jesus saves. Jesus is always the one who saves. And your confession does not save you, anymore than your belief that the table in the narthex is solid is responsible for it holding your coffee after the service. It will hold your coffee because it is solid, whether you believe it or not. A table is not some construct of the mind that only pops into existence when you believe in it’s coffee holding ability. And so your salvation is not an abstraction that only exists when you confess it. Your salvation is the body and blood of Christ given on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. It is hard reality, with a dead body. Their confession, like yours is only confessing a truth that exists outside yourself. The promise does not depend on you, it depends on Christ.
And yet today we extract promises from our confirmands, and on that basis allow them to come to the sacrament. So what exactly are we confirming? The children, yes. But we are not just confirming that they are children. We knew that, they knew that. What are we confirming about or in them?
Used to be, before email and online reservations, that when you flew, you would call 24 hours before your flight to confirm it. Not for sake of the confirmation itself, but for the flight you had previously purchased. So also with confirmation in the church. It exists not for the ritual itself, but to confirm something. In this case, we confirm the baptism that they have been given. Who is doing the confirming?
First and most obviously, the Confirmand – we ask them to repeat their renunciation of Satan, and all his works and all his ways. We ask them to repeat the creed confessed at their baptism. They are confirming that, yes, they do believe the faith that was given to them in Baptism.
The church confirms. Today the whole church acknowledges publicly that their baptism, which was given before they could even speak, was valid and true. Not that Baptism needs our approval or acknowledgment to be baptism. It is baptism because of God’s word. But God gave His holy church to the world to bring these gifts to people. And so the church saying, yes, the promise God gave you in baptism is good, is the sort of thing that the church should do. We should acknowledge and celebrate the gifts God gives. And so, today the church acknowledges the faith given in baptism, and admits these children to the sacrament of the altar.
So also the pastor confirms. But not on his own merits. The pastor stands in the stead and by the command of Christ to bring his word to the church. Today, the pastor says baptism is no empty thing, you are baptized, and baptism has been doing its work all the years since you were first brought here and washed in that font. The word of the Lord has been confirmed for our Lord says, “Baptize them in name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” And so, yes you are baptized, you have been taught the word of Christ, and now you are ready to receive the medicine of immortality.
There’s a lot going on today. Jesus enters Jerusalem for the final time. The disciples and others who believe in him gather together palms and welcome him as a king. The little ones fill that role for us as we re-enact it. Not for the sake of the reenactment itself, but for the sake of teaching and reminding ourselves what our Lord did for us in Jerusalem this week.
The church used to have baptisms on the Easter vigil. The catechumens, usually adults, would be instructed, sometimes for up to three years – and then, after intense instruction during the weeks leading to Easter, they would be baptized at the midnight service between Holy Saturday and Easter.
Today, with fewer adult baptisms, we confirm our children in their baptism on Palm Sunday. It may seem like we are doing too much. But there is no better time to remember your baptism than holy week – Jesus says to his disciples – “are you able to be baptized w/ the baptism I am baptized with?” Jesus is talking not just about his baptism in the Jordan river, but his baptism on the cross. He will be baptized in his own blood. In his baptism by John he was counted as a sinner, as he went into the water, and came out. Now, he will be condemned as a sinner, and will shed his own blood for you. The water will pour out of his side along with the blood. When the church baptizes in God’s name, the person being baptized is buried with Jesus, through baptism into death.
Today remember your Baptism, remember that you have been buried with Christ, you have been crucified with him, remember that even as we celebrate the baptism of these children, even as you see the triumphal entry and look ahead to the crucifixion.
There’s no “what now” in Christianity. You Never go beyond your baptism. You Never go beyond the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s always there. You are always crucified with Jesus, you are always looking to the crucifixion of Jesus to save you. The only what next, is when you enter eternity, and your baptism is fulfilled by the same Jesus, who entered the holy city, who died on the cross, and who has called you by Baptism to be his own.