In Confirmation Class a primary objective is for students to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ. The liturgy that we use on Confirmation Sunday reflects just that.
Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
Who is your Lord and Savior?
Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.
Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple obeying his word and showing his love?
Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, share in its worship and ministry through your prayers and gifts, your study and service and so fulfill your calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
It took me a couple of years to figure out that I needed to do a better job prepping students as they prepared to answer these questions - certainly they are nervous standing in front of the entire congregation. There is also some kind of weird thing that happens when you expect 10 teenagers to respond spontaneously and in unison. Everyone expects the other to be the loudest voice, I think.
And so as we prepared and practiced for worship, we went over the questions and answers and in particular their answer to “Who is your Lord and Savior?” For some reason it took a few tries for the answer to just roll off their tongues.
This led me to think even harder about what we were doing all year long to help them answer these questions, not just on that very special Sunday but every day of their lives. So I started posting these questions in our classroom and tried to refer to them as often as possible when our discussion or lesson did its part in helping them to answer.
Thirty-five items on this list of 100 things that a child should know BEFORE Confirmation class deal directly with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ - and these are just the very basics that they should already know on the first day of class. In class we wrestle with who Jesus was, why and how we live as his disciples, and how his birth, life, death, and resurrection shape so much of our community life together.
The following five stories (collections of stories) in particular shape the rhythm of our worship from Advent all the way up to Holy Week, and are essential starting points for conversations about who Jesus was and what that means for us as his followers.
61. The Stories of Jesus’ Birth
These birth narratives or infancy narratives come entirely from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Neither Mark nor John include any stories prior to the start of Jesus’ ministry. In the first and second chapters of Matthew we read of the angel appearing to Joseph assuring him that his son will be the one that the scriptures had promised their people; the visit of the magi to the holy family in Bethlehem; the warning of Joseph in a dream to flee from Israel with his newborn child; the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod; and finally the sojourn of the holy family in Egypt and then their return after the death of Herod.
Luke gives us his own version of this story told from some different perspectives in his first two chapters: the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth and Zachariah; the visit of an angel to Mary and Mary’s response in faith; the companionship of Mary and Elizabeth while they were both pregnant; the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem because of the Roman census; the birth of Jesus in a stable; and finally the announcement of the birth to shepherds in the fields and their adoration of the baby.
In Confirmation class we can talk together about why these two gospels tell such different versions of this story of Jesus’ birth. Is one right and one wrong? Is it right to mesh the two together as we do every Christmas Eve and in many nativity scenes? Can these stories give us insight into the larger message of each respective gospel? How do these stories serve as an example of the ways the writers of the New Testament included images and traditions from the Old Testament?
62. Jesus Lost in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52)
This story could also be included in the larger category of “infancy” narratives, even though it takes place when Jesus is much older. Jesus is twelve years old and traveling with his parents and their larger community to Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations. On the return trip, Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus is not among their caravan and return to the city to find him. After searching for three days, they find him back in the temple in deep theological and scriptural conversation with the teachers there. Even though his parents reprimand him, his response is fairly flip, telling them that it should have been obvious to them that he would be found in his father’s house.
The Bible is so bereft of stories of Jesus’ growing up, that we have come to cherish these rare glimpses into the ways early Christians imagined Jesus’ childhood. This story can provide some great conversation points in Confirmation class when we explore what it means that Jesus was a practicing Jew. Somehow that concept often eludes students. This story illustrates that it was important to show that Jesus was a part of the Jewish community and that his ministry should be understood in that context. Additionally, this story is a great way to talk about Jesus’ divinity. Did Jesus know that he was the son of God when he was a child? Did he already understand his calling to ministry? Was he born understanding the scriptures? What happens when we have so many unanswerable questions about Jesus? Does that threaten our ability to believe in him?
63. Jesus’ Baptism
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of Jesus’ baptism in a similar way, even though there are some slight differences in details. The Gospel of John also includes some of the same elements as the others, without mentioning his actual baptism. John the Baptist is in the wilderness proclaiming a message of redemption, the coming of a messiah, and participating in what would have already been an established practice of ritual washing or baptism. Jesus inaugurates his ministry by coming to the place where John is preaching along the Jordan River and asks for baptism himself. In some accounts John refuses, saying that it should be Jesus who baptizes him. Upon Jesus’ baptism a voice proclaims Jesus the beloved of God, and the Holy Spirit comes upon or appears to come upon him like a dove.
In Confirmation class I always provided a gospel parallel of this story so that students could see all four gospels’ versions side by side. Looking at them all together we can talk about our Christian practice of baptism and how we rely on this story of Jesus’ own baptism to shape our theology of baptism today. If baptism is about being washed of our sins, why would Jesus need to be baptized? How does the act of baptism mark us as beloved children of God? What role does the Holy Spirit play in our baptism? Where is the power in baptism - is it in the community? Is it in the promises made? Is it in the work of the pastor who “celebrates” it? Or is it in the work of the Holy Spirit?
64. The Temptation in the Wilderness
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that immediately following his baptism, Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. While Mark gives us very little in the way of description when it comes to the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, both Matthew and Luke provide actual dialogue between Jesus and Satan. On three occasions the devil tries to tempt Jesus into abusing his power as the Son of God - tempting him to perform miracles, to test the power of God and to abandon God and worship him instead. Jesus resists each time and leaves the wilderness to begin his teaching and itineration.
This story of Jesus’ temptation is how we begin the season of Lent - a season of reflection on our human condition, our tendency toward sin, and our need for redemption and connection with God through Christ. In class we can have even more conversations about who Jesus was. What does it mean to be fully human and fully divine? What does it mean that Jesus lived a sinless life? Was he really tempted in the desert? Could he really have been persuaded by the devil? How does Jesus’ human life connect us to him as human beings ourselves? As the one who forgives us our sins, what does it mean that Jesus was tempted as we are? What does it mean that we have a God who chose to take on our weaknesses?
65. The Transfiguration
Again the three synoptic gospels (Mark 9: 2-13; Matthew 17:1-13; Luke 9:28-36) tell this story that we usually read and remember on the last Sunday before the start of the season of Lent. Jesus takes three of his disciples up onto a mountain with him to pray: Peter, John and James. In the course of his praying he is transformed - or transfigured - before their eyes. His face and clothing begin to glow white, reminiscent of Moses’ transformation on Mount Sinai. Next to him then appear both the prophet Elijah (who was prophesied to return immediately preceding the Messiah) and Moses. Jesus speaks with them privately as the disciples look on. The three disciples are so overcome with joy at the sight of this event that they offer to erect tents or booths there on the mountain that they would all be able to remain there much longer in each other’s company. Finally from the clouds a voice is heard again declaring Jesus to be the son of God and encouraging them to listen to him.
This story provides yet again an opportunity to talk about what it means that our understanding of who Jesus was and is, is deeply rooted in the traditions of the Old Testament and specifically in the prophetic writings concerning the coming of the Messiah - or the anointed one of God. In class we can talk about our expectations as followers of Jesus that we will have “mountaintop experiences.” Even for the disciples this was a rare and unusual event. What if we never have one? What if the heavens never open to give us a vision of Christ? How do we root our belief and faith in ancient stories when even the people in the stories themselves struggle to understand? When we do have a mountaintop experience, how do we handle the walk back down the mountain or a remaining life on the plains or even in the valleys?
Each one of these stories embodies the spirit of Epiphany when we focus on the centuries-old search to understand the fullness of who this man Jesus of Nazareth was, is and will be: Son of Mary and Joseph, Son of God, Promised Messiah, Prophet, Liberator, King of the Jews, Rabbi and Teacher, Beloved of God, fully human yet without sin.
For each follower of Christ, each of these names, these identities, these traditions will have significance throughout a lifetime of faith. As students take this step of declaring their intention to be counted as one of those followers, a year or even a season of preparation aimed at giving them the fullest picture of Jesus Christ will equip and serve them well far beyond Confirmation Sunday.
I have just one more post left in this series that has spanned over the past two years exploring the foundational biblical literacy and religious awareness that should be nurtured in children as they prepare for their Confirmation.
I am working together with SPCK Publishing to create a new resource based on all of these posts and the list with even more ideas for teaching children both at home and in the classroom.
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