16 April 2011

Confirmation Sermon - Late

Every time we come to a day like this, you confirmands, there are lots of us in the room remembering when we stood where you stand today.  I remember when I was confirmed, but that was on Pentecost – maybe the most common day for confirmations out on the East Coast.  When I first came to the Midwest it was a bit jarring to see Confirmation show up on Palm Sunday.  What gives?  But then I began attending to the readings and it all clicked.

They’re about CONFESSION.  That is, saying back to God what He has said to you.  And that is exactly what you all are preparing to do.  You’ll stand before His altar and open your lips and say back to Him the very things He has said to you.  The promises your parents and sponsors made when you were wee things, now will be on your lips, owned as your own.  So let’s chase down confession and see what we find.

In our Processional Gospel we heard the crowds making confession.  They were welcoming Jesus as He came into His city as the One who came in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel.  They were all hyped up because they’d seen that He’d raised Lazarus from the dead.  A great King indeed!

Then in our Old Testament reading we heard the same event described by the prophet Zechariah.  He confesses that the One who comes riding in on the donkey is the King, righteous and having salvation.  Coming to be the sacrifice whose blood would set free the prisoners (that would be you) from the waterless pit (and that would be hell).  

Then more joy of confession in today’s Epistle where St. Paul reveals what will happen at the end of time.  When the Lord Jesus comes again in His glory and reveals Himself on this earth as the true King and Lord of all, then every knee will bow in heaven, on earth, and under the earth – that is from heaven to earth to hell – and every mouth will confess that Jesus Christ really is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

For some, that confession will be overwhelming joy – it’s a confession they’ve made throughout their lives and now rejoice to make with all creation.  For others, that confession will be wrung out of them in terror and fear, for what they most dreaded turned out to be true.  There really was a God after all, who had loved them and provided a way of salvation for them, but whom they despised and scorned and turned from.  Our prayer for each of you here is that on that Day, you will be found solidly among the joyful ones who welcome your King who comes in glory to bring you from death and all the sorrows of this age into the shining brightness and light of His everlasting kingdom.

And from the Epistle to the Gospel.  A long reading.  Jesus on trial, confessed to be innocent by Pilate three times, and yet finally delivered over to his innocent suffering and death.  But what a death.  He dies and the temple veil that separated the holy place from the most holy place rips in two from top to bottom, God rending it to pieces as forgiveness comes pouring down over the world.  He dies and just as Jesus had said on Palm Sunday – the rocks cry out because there is no praise for Him elsewhere, and so the earth groans and reels.  And the dead then woken up and showing themselves alive after the resurrection in the holy city.  And did catch how the Passion story ended.  The centurion, the Roman solider, who maybe had been curious about this Jesus who dies like no man ever died before, he makes a grand confession:  “Truly this was the Son of God!”  The title above His cross was true:  He was the King of the Jews, but bigger than any other King, He was also the veritable Son of the Eternal Father.  So His death wipes out sin and destroys the power of death itself.  By His innocent death death works backwards, as C. S. Lewis put it so well.

Confession!  Jesus teaches it can only be revealed to You by His Father from heaven.  Only by the Holy Spirit can anyone say that Jesus is Lord.  And that is exactly what the Centurion does as he watches what happens when our Lord dies.  And it is what you will do today, my young friends.

You will join the vast crowd that have stood in front of others and confessed the rock bottom reality of this world gone wrong:  Jesus Christ is Lord.  St. Paul promises that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

So it is with great anticipation that we await hearing from your own lips what we have confessed ourselves:  that you turn from the devil, his works, his ways, his deceits and lies; that you confess God the Father, the creator of all things and God the Son, the blessed Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit who gives you faith.  Yet we remember Peter.  We remember that he got it all right when it was a bright and sunny day and he was surrounded by friends; but when the time came for him to confess before hostile witnesses, he chickened out and even went so far as to deny that He knew the Lord with an oath and called down a curse on himself if it weren’t so.  So, young friends, I don’t put too much stock in your promises today – beautiful as they are, right as they are.  You add to them a very important rider:  “by the grace of God.”  Which is a way of saying that you don’t have the strength in yourself to keep yourself faithful to the Trinity to death.  That must come from Him as a gift.  For you, just like Peter and every one of us, are weak and prone to blow it at the moment when confession would be most glorious.  

But with God’s grace, there is strength for confession and so the most important promise you make today is to make faithful use of the Lord’s words and sacraments.  You come and let Him fill you with His Spirit, His forgiveness and His divine life and you will suddenly find courage and strength to confess that you never knew you had – because it comes from Him, not from you.

So yes, the readings make today a marvelous day for us to hear and rejoice in YOUR confession of Jesus whose cross and blood have atoned for all your sin, His Father whose love never will fail you, and His life-giving Spirit who gives you faith and keeps You His, to whom be glory now and to the ages of ages.  Amen.

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