The Rite of Confirmation
March 20, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Today is the culmination of long preparation for our catechumens. In a way, you’re a lot like Jesus’ disciples on Palm Sunday. Jesus had spent three years preparing them for the events that began with His riding into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of Hosanna! They should have known that Jesus was riding on in lowly pomp to die. But St. John makes a point of saying, “His disciples did not understand these things at first” (Jn 12:16a). Sometimes I think that pastors should get a confirmation verse each year too, and this should be it: “His disciples did not understand these things at first.”
Just like the disciples, you have learned a lot of information about God and faith through the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. But simply knowing the information is not enough to have true understanding—that is, to know and also to believe. For that, it is necessary to think like Christ, and Christ always has the cross on His mind. If you also have the cross in mind, then you will understand why it is that you are being confirmed today. Therefore,
Have the Mind of Christ in You
St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle, Have this mind among yourselves, which is also in Christ Jesus, who, having the form of God at His disposal, did not regard being equal to God as something to be seized, but He deprived Himself of power, taking a form of a servant, becoming in likeness of men, and being found of outward form as a man. He humbled Himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death of a cross (vv 5-8).
The mind of Christ is a mind of humility. In this marvelous passage St. Paul poetically condenses the entire will of the Son of God into a few short verses. Because He is true God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, He has the form of God at His disposal. At any time He can dispatch disease, calm the wind and the waves, and call the dead forth into life. Yet what does He do when His own well-being is threatened? He takes the form of a servant. On Palm Sunday our Lord makes Himself nothing. The Lamb goes uncomplaining forth to bear the guilt of all mankind.
The form of a servant is seen no more clearly than when Jesus stands before His accusers. False accusation after false accusation is hurled at Him, but what does He do? He remains silent. Think of how you react when someone accuses you of something. Even if you’re guilty, you want to speak up to defend yourself. But not your Lord. He stands in your place and accepts the accusations meant for you. He does not argue His innocence, but in silence pleads guilty on your behalf.
In the beginning God made man in His likeness, but now Christ has made Himself in the likeness of men. In human form, that is in flesh and blood, the Lord Jesus Christ shows the depth of His humility. Christ makes Himself nothing by submitting to every authority. He obeys to the death, even death on a cross.
How do you obtain this mind? It’s not something that you can build up on your own; the mind of Christ doesn’t come naturally. “Have this mind among yourselves,” St. Paul writes, “which is also in Christ Jesus” (v 5). To receive this mind, you must be in Christ. And to be in Christ, it is necessary to be baptized into Him.
Your humility begins with Baptism, for at your Baptism the cross of Jesus Christ is put on you. Thus, you humble yourself not by becoming obedient unto your own cross and death, but by being placed under the cross of Christ. That’s why the sign of the cross is made on your forehead at Baptism and with every baptismal blessing—to show that your mind in Christ is formed by the cross.
Your humility continues, then, each time you return to your Baptism by confessing your sins. When you kneel in prayer and private devotion, confessing all your sins (even those you have forgotten or never knew), or when you kneel before your pastor to confess particular sins that burden your conscience, you are humbly returning to the cross to renew your mind.
And finally, when you approach the altar to receive Christ’s life-giving body and blood, examine yourself so that you will recognize that you come only by the gracious invitation of the Savior and not by any merit or worthiness in yourself.
To have the mind of Christ is to humble yourself, to make yourself nothing before God, and to place yourself under the cross of Christ. When you have the mind of Christ in you, your final destination is not the depths of humility, for God raises up those who humble themselves. Therefore, also, God exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is over every name in order that in the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, heavenly and earthly and sub-earthly and every tongue confess that Lord Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father (vv. 9-11).
God has highly exalted Jesus by giving Him the name that is above every name. The name Jesus derives from a form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which literally means, “The Lord Saves.” When the angel appeared to Joseph to announce Jesus’ birth, he instructed him to name the child Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).
Recall that this is the name that was raised up above the Lord’s head when He hung on the cross. On Palm Sunday as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the people shouted Hosanna!, which means, “Save us now!.” Then five days later, they saw a sign that read, “The Lord Saves” hanging above a dying man.
The depths of Christ’s humility resulted in Him being placed in a borrowed grave. Yet His sacrifice of humility was pleasing to God the Father. Therefore, He has raised Him up from death to life and has exalted Him even farther by seating Him at His right hand in heaven.
You also have the name that was crucified along with Jesus by virtue of your Baptism. “The Lord Saves” is written all over you. And because God has exalted this name, He has also exalted you.
Therefore when you humble yourself and confess your sins, God does not leave you in the depths of humility, but raises you up with His Holy Absolution. I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. He does not leave you kneeling at His altar hungering and thirsting for righteousness but feeds you with His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there also does God raise you up to life and salvation.
In a few minutes our catechumens will confess the faith they have learned and make a solemn pledge to remain faithful unto death—in other words, to have the mind of Christ. For all who think on Christ’s humiliation and make His mind theirs by confessing their sins and kneeling at the altar to receive the Holy Sacrament, God will continue the exaltation on the Last Day by raising you to a glorious resurrection with all the saints. He who begins the good work in you also brings it to completion.
The disciples did not understand what was happening on Palm Sunday until they looked back on the events after having witnessed Christ’s death and resurrection. There they saw Christ’s mind, a mind that is humble to the point of death. If you also have this mind, you will see the cross of Christ in your own Baptism, your own confession, and in the Sacrament that is given to you. And when you share in Christ’s humility, you will also share in His exaltation.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard