Thursday, June 5, 2008

Confirmation is Not Graduation

Last Sunday three of our young people took part in the Rite of Confirmation. For the past two years, we have been praying for these “catechumens” or “learners” while they have been learning the “catechism.”

One of the things I always tell the confirmation students is that “Confirmation is not graduation.” It kind of seems that way sometimes, however. For two years, they come to a class. They have to study a book. They take quizzes and tests (which I have started calling “Celebrations of Knowledge” ...thanks Pastor Stiegemeyer...although that hasn’t changed the students’ opinion of them...when I say, “It’s time for another Celebration of Knowledge” someone always says, “You mean a test!”). On the big day, they wear a robe. They sit together and come forward to receive a piece of paper with their name on it (kind of like a diploma!). And their reward (although it shouldn’t really be seen that way, as if the Sacrament were a carrot dangled at the end of a string in front of a horse) is that finally they get to receive the Lord’s Supper.

Confirmation does have some parallels to graduation. But just like life doesn’t end when students graduate, neither does one’s life in Christ end at confirmation. Confirmation is just another step along the way in one’s walk with God and growth in the knowledge of the Scriptures. Hopefully, confirmation is presented as the way in which we prepare young people to engage in a more mature participation in the life of the Church. In the Confirmation ceremony, the confirmands reaffirm the promises that God gave to them in their Baptism. Now, they are able to publicly say “Yes” to God’s promises, whereas when they were baptized as infants or young children, their parents and sponsors did this on their behalf.

So often, we lose students either after confirmation or after high school. This happens for various reasons. The pressures of other activities and peers and jobs get in the way. Some responsibility lies with parents, to continue to bring their children to church and Sunday School and youth group activities. But the entire congregation should bear some of the burden, too. Do we go out of our way to acknowledge and appreciate and affirm the young people of our congregation? Do we greet them personally on Sunday morning? Do we pray for them? Do we make them feel like they are a part of our church or just that group of youngsters whom we can ask to do some of the dirty work that the rest of us don’t want to do? “Let’s get the youth to do it” is not always a welcome suggestion. Sure, they may have more energy than most of us, but let’s not take them for granted. Instead, let’s work and serve together.

Finally, Confirmation Day is a good day for all of us to reaffirm the promises God gave us in our Baptism...the promises of faith, forgiveness, eternal life, salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit. As the confirmands confess their faith, we confess right along with them. As we pray for them that they would remain faithful unto death by the grace of God, we pray for each other and for ourselves that God would keep us all strong in faith in the Triune God by his grace.

We are all lifelong “catechumens.” We are all lifelong “learners.” After all, remember what the sign in the Social Hall says: “No one graduates from Bible Study until they meet the Author face to face!”


Robert said...

Good post, as I (a newbie Lutheran) am trying to figure out just what exactly confirmation *is*. There's no parallel to this in the Reformed/evangelical world I am coming from.

But please... get rid of the title "Celebration of Knowledge". We've got an education professor at the college I teach at who calls her quizzes this. If it's a test, call it a test. :)

Kurt Onken said...

Yeah, the whole "Celebration of Knowledge" thing is kind of goofy. When I say it, I always say it with the most ironic tone I can muster, so the kids know I'm not trying to pull the wool over the eyes. A rose by any other name...