Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It may be surprising for good Lutherans steeped in 500 years of confirmation tradition to discover that the early Christians never attended Wednesday evening classes with their Pastor. They didn’t spend time memorizing the Books of the Bible, after all the New Testament hadn’t even been written yet. Nor did they study Luther’s Small Catechism and its Explanation. They weren’t even required to take sermon notes, though apparently there was a young student in Troas named Eutychus who was taking notes during an exceptionally long, late night sermon by the apostle Paul. Poor Eutychus fell asleep, and then tumbled down from the windowsill where he was seated of a three-story building to the pavement beneath. He was dead, but Paul miraculously raised him from the dead- to take notes on another sermon.
In the early Church, confirmation, baptism and first communion were all celebrated in a single ceremony at the Easter Vigil at the end of a three-year program for adult catechumens. During the worship service, the catechumens descended into a pool of water where they were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They then ascended, and were clothed with white robes, and the bishop laid hands on them and anointed them with oil. Then they proceeded to a place of honor where they participated in the Lord’s Supper for the first time.
How different Confirmation education has been these past three years for the confirmands I affectionately refer to as the Covid 19 Confirmation Class. In the spring of their 6th grade year, back in 2020, churches and schools were shuttered. When the students returned in the fall, the confirmation class met by virtually and in person on the Church Patio. We sat by heaters to stay warm and we read beneath our outdoor chains of lights. Eventually, we moved inside and sat socially distanced around the room. Of course, with our masks. I didn’t see smiles for another year and a half, though, an observant parishioner was to quick point out, “Well, they were in confirmation after all.” Surprisingly, in spite of the obstacles, the confirmands remained engaged in learning about their faith. That is a part of our celebration today. The pandemic may have changed confirmation education, but the challenges of growing up and remaining confident in your faith have not. Our youth were still being tested by their peers and the world, and they were searching for a strength that only could be found in God.
For Lutherans, the journey of faith always begins at baptism often with the commitment of parents and godparents to raise a child in the Christian faith. It is in the waters of baptism where they are given God’s promise that they are his children always.
Lenore: My journey started when I was baptized and went to Sunday school when I was little. I had Sunday school at Faith Lutheran Church and I really enjoyed that. I remember having friends I loved seeing and would hang out with them at Sunday school. I also participated in the Kids Club choir and we would perform in church about once a month and then have a concert at the end of the school year.
Yes, for the Lutheran youth, faith begins at baptism and is then nurtured in the home. It is the arms of the family and the community of believers that faith is taught and caught. The primary role of the church, you see, is to equip families to teach the faith, and everyone once in a while, in the course of their confirmation years, confirmands discover that faith is not just another subject to be learned and mastered, but faith it about a living relationship with God.
Nick: I believe when I came to faith was when I started to realize that God hasn’t said his last words to you and me, and that he continues to talk to us throughout our lives, and that we can pray to him, to talk to him when no one else will listen.
Of course, there is a structure to confirmation instruction based on Holy Scripture and Luther’s Small Catechism. The Confirmation students wrestle with the Apostles’ Creed which is at the heart of the Christian faith. What does it mean to believe and trust in a Triune God. That is after the confession in which they are all baptized, and the confession which our confirmands will affirm as their own today. The reality is that even youth can be challenged in their knowledge of their faith regardless of their age. As adults of an earlier generation and time, we often assume that the world knows Christ, and that people know the fundamental of the Christian faith. That has not always been the experience of our confirmands.
Lenore: During this time, I went to elementary I was exposed to many religions. Even though this was a non-religious school, we learned about some religions and had various festivals to celebrate them. During the last year I was there, we learned about the Christian faith. My teacher was teaching us about what Christians believe when she said that we believe in three gods which then she compared to her faith. I shared that I’m a Christian and we believe in the triune God which is One God – three in one (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). She responded that that is where we disagreed. I understand that it could be confusing to people who don’t believe but I wanted to help her teach the truth.
What I have been struck by most with my Covid 19 Confirmation Class has been their personal journeys and their longing for true, meaningful relationships. So many of the students were in socially distanced settings, they faced regular quarantine, and working from home on line. Still, our confirmands were aware that what was missing in their lives, was not just personal relationships, but a spiritual relationship with God.
Nick: I think it’s best to understand one’s faith by going through the past and making a list, a list of times you prayed to be given courage to do something you couldn’t do alone, prayed to be given strength to do a great task, prayed to be given guidance, prayed to have the feeling of reassurance, or simple prayed to be heard.
The little gestures and signs of encouragement were important to our confirmands in this time of growth and waiting. The pastor, however, wasn’t the only one playing a role in nurturing their faith.
Lenore: During Covid, my grandma started emailing me a bible verse every day which has now evolved into daily texts, and in every card, she adds a bible verse for me to read. I think the verse from Psalm 46:1 best describes what I need and try to remember every day, especially when I’m having a tough day. “God is our refuge and strength, a helper who can always be found in times of trouble.”
Yes, the confirmation program changed during Covid. We were no longer able to do our usual service projects, such as serving a meal in the Homeless Shelter and buying prizes for leisure. We certainly couldn’t require in person regular worship attendance. Still Covid brought about a deeper sense of prayer in our confirmands’ relationship to God. Perhaps because God was the only one they could speak to safely without wearing a mask.
Nick: Recently I’ve been praying a lot. I’ve prayed to be given the courage to stand in front of you all, prayed to be given strength to get through my recovery and physical therapy, even prayed to be reassured that my speech isn’t as long and as boring as I think it is.
Not so recently now I remember praying before every high school soccer game I played, I would pray for my safety just as well others safety. Now looking at me it may seem that i might have missed a day of praying that is not the case it wasn’t during a soccer game. But many people I know who have had similar season ending injuries have been quick to test and point fingers at God asking how he let this happen to them, instead of having the faith to understand that his plan for me will see me out an excellent life no matter how great this temporary pain may be.
Yes, there is a growing and maturing faith in each of one of our confirmands, and God’s work is not yet done. He is still calling them to ventures and challenges that they do not know the ending. So Nick and Lenore, embrace the word of St. Paul, “Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.