My background before entering the seminary was theatre – some acting but mainly lighting and some sound and stage management. I have to be careful as a pastor not to turn every-thing, especially worship, into a performance. There’s only one actor on the ‘worship stage’ and God doesn’t need me to keep stepping in front of him and telling you ‘look at me look at me’! If there’s an art in conducting the liturgy, it is to be present but invisible so that people are always seeing ‘through the person’ to the Lord of the Church who has gathered his people to him.
It’s the little things that can trip you up at times and make you visible – careless preparation, mispronunciation, a poor response to something unexpected, to name a few. Last Sunday over the three services I conducted it was one word in the Gospel I read. Say this word to yourself. Abyss. How does it sound? Well I think I know how it sounds. I’ve read it before. But the first time I read the Gospel, it didn’t sound ‘right’ and it just niggled my brain. At the second service, I heard it clearly and it was wrong. I’m sure I said … ‘Abbess’. The picture started to form in my head – I’m sure I’m talking microseconds – of the demons begging Jesus not to go into the abbess – and I knew I’d smile if I thought more about it. Stop it! Concentrate! Read!
So by the time I got to the third service I was ready to read correctly, only to find that I now said it clearly ‘Abbess’. Did I sense a flicker, a ripple, of amusement before me? I almost laughed but now I was cross with myself. This isn’t funny (though it is … sort of)! Read on! Thank goodness my Australian accent might have come to the rescue! If you’re going to communicate, do so clearly.
Clear communication is at the heart of Confirmation. We learn who God is and what he has done – not as something new – but hopefully in a new way, in a way that helps us grow closer to Jesus, and in ways that shape our brains, touch our hearts, guide our hands, and lead our mouths. That’s what the Small Catechism does – in its four sections. We learn that justification is a declaration of innocence rather than a manufacture of righteousness. We know that the Trinity is a mystery but that doesn’t make us mute – we can say many things about our God. And when we see the cross as central, then we can see clearly the wonder of the great exchange – Jesus’ righteousness for our sin, his death for our life, his suffering for our peace. And that’s what the confirmed also want to communicate – whether their confirmation was 60 seconds ago or 60 years ago.
The ‘I love you’ from Jesus hasn’t changed. It’s just a lot more grown up as we discover more and more what those words mean as we grow up. (God bless you, Peyton and Riley, on your confirmation today!) — GS