SACRAMENTS – CONFIRMATION

INTRO Yesterday we began a series of talks exploring the meaning and purpose of the Sacraments, and hopefully discovering the beauty of God’s work in our lives through these sacred encounters with the living God; hopefully opening ourselves to the working, impact and presence of the Spirit of God who comes as breath of energy, fire of love, water of life. We explored how ‘Sacrament’ is the making visible the invisible action and presence of God in our world, how Jesus is the Sacrament of the Father, the Church the Sacrament of the Christ and each of the Seven Sacraments is making visible the love of God active in our world – through us!

[1] We reflected upon Baptism as the Sacrament of our re-birth – what can be more radical than ‘re-birth’, becoming a ‘New Creation’, experiencing what St Paul calls ‘the revolution of a New Mind’ in Christ. We become a ‘person made new’ – not a different person for our creation, our personality , our uniqueness is God’s great gift to us. No … but we can now live our ‘personhood’ with a new freedom, with a new orientation, with a new purpose. In baptism we know and experience ourselves as loved beyond anything we can imagine, caught up in the endless loving of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Who make their home in the core of my being (John 14: 22 ). Baptism is essentially the Sacrament of our being loved (1 John 3: 1 & 4: 10, 16 ). And this ‘being loved’ is what makes us ‘new’ (2 Corinthians 5: 17, 21  & Rev 21: 5), brings about ‘rebirth’ into a new realm of personal existence (John 3: 3-8) as a child of the Father, sister/brother/co-worker of Christ Jesus, embraced by the Holy Spirit. It is nothing less than being ‘born through water and the Holy Spirit’ (John 3: 5) born from the pierced heart of Christ in the water and blood flowing (John 19: 34) from the right side of the Temple (Ezechiel 47: 1-12) that is Jesus Crucified and ‘lifted up’ in Love’s victory! (John 19: 28-37). In baptism we are literally like a sponge soaking up the waters of God’s Loving of us beyond all measure – the invisible divine reality graphically made visible when as here at St Nicks nearly all our baptisms are by ‘total immersion’.

[2] If Baptism is being a sponge soaking in God’s utterly free gift of Divine Love, then Confirmation is like becoming a hose-pipe carrying that grace, that love and pouring ’it’ (the divine love within us)  out upon the ‘dry ground’ of our world to transform the desert into a land teeming with fertility and life (Ezechiel 47: 9-12 & Rev 22: 1-2). This love so freely by our God given to each of us is of its very divine nature overflowing into our world: it cannot be contained. Just as the Eternal Divine Love exploded into the nothingness to create the Universe (what astrophysicists cal ‘the big bang’ in which the whole Cosmos emerged from nothing into our awesome and beautiful evolving Universe), so the ‘love by which we are loved’ (1 John 4: 10) in our baptism overflows into a world crying out for love, for justice, for freedom, for hope, for healing! In Baptism we receive the gift of God’s Loving – in Confirmation we become part of God’s Loving of the world. In Confirmation we are called not just to receive Pentecost, but to be part of God’s Pentecost, the outpouring of God’s loving, renewing the face of the earth.

[3] Confirmation has sometimes been described as ‘a sacrament looking for a theology’ and yet it carries empowerment for mission, service and prophetic courage! We see in the Acts of the Apostles how baptism in water is often followed by the ‘laying on of hands’ in prayer to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Philip the deacon and then the apostles in Samaria – Acts 8: 4-8; St Paul in Ephesus – Acts 19: 1-7). Sometimes the Holy Spirit ‘falls’ first as the with Peter’s conversion of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion (Acts 11: 44-48 ), followed by baptism and the laying on of hands; sometimes the laying on hands in prayer comes before Baptism – but almost always they are associated together. Are they one ’rite’ or two separate acts? Are we talking about one sacrament or two? Or two sacraments in one action of Initiation? However we answer this theological ‘conundrum’, what is so clear from Scripture is that Baptism and the ‘Laying on of hands’ for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit belong together. Baptism (the ‘lavishing of the Father’s love’ upon us 1 John 3: 1-4) is somehow incomplete without the gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit empowering our witness to Christ and our serving of the world in its growth and transformation into the ‘liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8: 20-21). Since the reforms of Vatican II the ancient order of Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, then Confirmation then Eucharist, celebrated together – has been restored when baptising adults and older young persons. The practice of almost all the Eastern Churches (including the Eastern Rites and Uniat Churches in communion with the Pope) is that babies are baptised, confirmed and given Eucharist together. Historically, as the Western Church grew in numbers it reserved (as a norm) Confirmation to the Bishop. It was then celebrated usually when children were about 13 years old or above (ie when entering on the paths of maturity and adulthood). Confirmation then came to be seen (without theological justification) as a ‘rite of passage’ into Christian adulthood and responsibility. This was further emphasised by the reform of Pope St Pius X (around 1910), encouraging frequent Communion and the admission of children from 7 years old onwards to the Eucharist (itself a great innovation), which had the unfortunate by-product of detaching Confirmation from the completion of the Rites of Initiation in the Eucharist. The Catholic Church is in a process of re-thinking its practice without depriving our children of the ‘Bread of Life and Cup of Love’ that is the Eucharist.

[4] But what is clear is that the ‘laying on of hands and the anointing with Chrism’  (the external physical actions associated with Confirmation) expresses that Baptism brings a responsibility to share the love we have had lavished upon us – to be build the Church as a communion of Love, a community of Mission, a Servant Church in the world, a Prophetic voice proclaiming the Gospel of Justice, Freedom, Humanity – God’s agent of change and transformation bring about the ‘renewal of all things’ (Rev 21: ) until we see the ‘New Heaven and New Earth’ where there ‘will be no more pain or death’  (Rev 21: ). The Gifts of the Holy Spirit released in Confirmation are essentially gifts of ministry and mission. Confirmation is, so to speak, the fulness of our ordination to the Priesthood of All Believers, gifted us to be a ‘People of Hope’ and Communion for Mission’. That is why our celebration of Confirmation employs the same physical actions as the ordination of priests. 

[5] We need to put far more emphasis on the importance of Confirmation as God’s gifting us and sending out to our world to change it! We are called to become God’s Pentecost in the world, to become part of God river of love transforming the desert!

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