Today is day four of what might be considered the 10 most awkward days of the Church year. On Thursday, day 1, our Lord ascended into heaven. The ascension is 40 days after Easter, but Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit, isn’t until 50 days after Easter. So here we are, 44 days after Easter. Christ has ascended, but the Holy Spirit wasn’t sent until day 50. Thus the cry from our Introit:
“Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud!”
Today we pray that the ascended Lord would not leave us alone, but continue to hear us and assure us of His love and presence.
It’s quite remarkable that either we or the disciples could ever doubt the Lord’s presence, as if He would ever leave us alone, but that’s just what the sinful flesh does. This is why Peter didn’t want Jesus to go to the cross. Surely He didn’t want His master to endure suffering and death, as He certainly cared a great deal for His Lord. But worse, Peter didn’t want to lose Jesus, and that’s what he thought would happen if Jesus went to the cross.
In fact, it was the cross that reconciled God to humanity. The cross was the very thing that ensured the abiding presence of God with sinful man, but the flesh can never bring itself to trust God, even when He is acting for our good.
Jesus has promised to never leave nor forsake His Church, and yet this is precisely what the sinful flesh is afraid will happen. Why is this? We have Scripture, which assures us that this will never happen, and we have history which bears this out as well. So why are we concerned that Christ will leave us? Because that’s what we do to Him. This is what we do all the time, we neglect prayer, don’t study the Scriptures like we should, we miss church, and even when we are here, our minds aren’t always where they should be.
Our fear of being abandoned by God is based less on anything He has ever said or done, but is more a reflection of our fear that He’ll treat us as we treat Him. Sadly, confirmation has historically been an example of this, with many treating this day as “graduation”, never to return to the Church. Jesus promises to never abandon those who abide in His Word, but many have forsaken Him, and apart from Him there is no salvation. Most of the confirmed have fallen away, which means that most of the confirmed will spend eternity in hell. This should come as no surprise, as our Lord Himself describes salvation as the narrow way. As He says in Matthew 7, “Wide is the gate and broad the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it, but small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to eternal life,” (v. 13—14).
So I plead with those of you who are being confirmed today, along with all of you who have already been confirmed: take your confirmation vow seriously. Everyone who is confirmed has promised, by the grace of God, hear the Word of the Lord and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully. This means not just once in a while, but as often as possible. Your Lord comes to you in His Word and Sacrament, and you need His forgiveness, life, and salvation more than anything else in this world.
The confirmed also promise to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it. This means you treasure your pure Lutheran confession of Christ so much that you’d rather die than forsake it. This means you are a lifelong Lutheran. This means that should you marry, the person you marry should either share your faith or be willing to learn it so you can raise Lutheran children, should God bless you with them.
Notice when we confirm young people we don’t ask the Lord if He will be faithful to us—we know He will. The problem is on our end, which is why we make these solemn, lifelong vows in the presence of the Lord and the congregation. We need the grace of God to keep them and also the support and encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ in this congregation. Jesus never intended the faith to be individualistic. We come to church not only for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of the rest of the body. There’s nothing more discouraging for a congregation to watch people drift away. When once-high numbers dwindle, so does morale and we begin to feel the pressure of not having the financial resources we might like.
Thanks be to God that He remains present and faithful in spite of our unfaithfulness! He has promised that not even the gates of hell will prevail against His Church. And it is in this, and this alone, that we find our comfort. We take heart not because we grew or met our budget or preserved our financial stability, but because the Lord has promised that not even the gates of hell will prevail against His Church. Remember that nothing looked like it was going well when Jesus was suffering and dying on the cross, and that was when He was accomplishing His greatest good.
Consider what the Lord might teach us in our own struggles. If our finances and attendance aren’t what they should be, that should encourage us to a greater trust in His never-failing provision. Things may not always go the way we want them to, but God’s will is always done. And when things are going too well, we have a tendency to forget just how needy we really are. As Luther said, we are all beggars. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.
The confirmation verses that I chose for our catechumens were done so keeping our constant need for the Lord in mind. And while I pray these verses will have special relevance for their lives, they apply to us all, so I’d like to comment on them briefly for you all now.
Savannah’s verse from John 8 reminds us that if we are truly the disciples of Jesus, we will abide in His Word. Confirmation isn’t the end, but the beginning of a lifelong process of growth in Christ.
Sarah’s verse from Colossians 1 reminds us that despite our sin, we are no longer children of the devil. As long as we continue to repent of our sin, there is nothing Christ can’t forgive. We are His baptized children, and it is His delight to forgive.
Nathan’s verse from Romans 1 reminds us of the importance of confessing our faith before the world. For those who belong to Jesus are not ashamed of the Gospel, even in this increasingly hostile world. It is the power of God for salvation, powerful even to make bold confessors out of those who once were children of wrath.
Paige’s verse from Psalm 27 is a confession that where faith in Christ exists, there is nothing to fear. For He is our light and salvation, and on the Third Day, Light overcame the darkness for good when death was swallowed up by Life.
In Karrington’s verse from John 6, our Lord assures us that He will never leave us hungry or thirsty. The devil would leave us spiritually starved and dehydrated, but Christ, the Bread of Life, will always fill the hungry with His forgiveness, life and salvation in His Supper.
And finally, Joey’s verse from Ephesians 6 reminded us of our life-long struggle against Satan and the forces of hell. This is why we continually abide in His Word, receive the Absolution, confess the Gospel, trust in His victory, and come to the Lord’s Table.
In this Christian Church God daily and richly forgives all your sins. Here He equips you with the armor of God. Here He assures you of His abiding presence, so that you might know for sure that He always hears you when you cry aloud to Him.
Soli Deo Gloria