This weekend’s Confirmation Mass began with a bit of excitement and a late start. Our bishop came pealing into the parking lot from a Fairbanks priest’s funeral with just minutes to spare, but he processed into church cool and composed. I imagine it has happened before in his sixteen years here, with all the necessary airplane rides. He began his homily with a joke, always a good way to start, quipping that since he was late, his exposition of the Scriptures would be short!
And the Scripture readings were ideal for this sacrament being conferred, mostly upon teenagers.
Listen to the angst in Habakkuk: “How long O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence’, but you do not intervene. Why must I look at ruin? Then the Lord answered me and said, ‘Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets…for the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not be late (1:2-3; 2:2-3).”
Then we sang this poetry from Psalm 95: “Come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our God our Maker. For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts (6-8).”
The epistle was from Paul to a young minister Timothy, and was exactly what the teens needed to hear: “Beloved, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a sprit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us (II Timothy 1:6-8,13-14).”
And the Gospel we rose to hear, perfectly answered the ensuing questions about faith and service as they move on as newly confirmed by the Holy Spirit: “Lord, increase our faith. The Lord replied, ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would tell this mulberry tree to be and planted in the sea and it would obey you … So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’ (Luke 17:5-10).”
Sacraments celebrate the salvation story using the goodness of creation. God proclaimed it all “Good” and even took upon himself human flesh, revealing that the things of earth are not obstacles to God, but are windows to Heaven. The wonder of creation enables us to glimpse the superabundance of God. We use the stuff of earth just as Jesus did –water, fire, oil, bread, wine, ashes, branches– to be drawn closer to him and to sing with the world, “Bless the Lord, you waters; bless the Lord, sun and moon; bless the Lord, all you winds; bless the Lord, mountains and hills … (This is a lengthy passage from Daniel 3, calling on every part of the earth to bless the Lord; it’s a treat to read!).
For Confirmation, the laying on of hands and annointing with oil are used as God is asked for the grace and courage of the Holy Spirit to boldly confess Christ. It is the flowering of Baptismal grace, the stirring into flame the gifts of God that Paul told Timothy was his by the imposition of his hands. We see it in the very beginning of Christianity, in the books of Acts. There are several instances (8:14-17; 9:17; 19:6) where an apostle laid hands on someone already baptized, to be filled or sealed with the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 6:1-2 lays out the walk of a Christian: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrines of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, with instruction about baptism, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” The candidates for Confirmation stood before the church, no longer children learning the elementary doctrines, but ready to go on to maturity in their faith. Our bishop placed his hand on their heads, called them by name, and said, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” to which each one answered, “Amen.” And then, “The Lord be with you” was answered with, “And with your spirit.”
I was happy to witness the sacrament and to pray for them. I look forward to next year, when one of mine will stand before our church ready to move on to her own mature faith. The Mass closed with this blessing for everyone:
“The Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples and set their hearts on fire with love; may he bless you, keep you one in faith and love, and bring you to the joy of God’s kingdom.”