Saturday, May 27, 2017
Confirmation and Palm Sunday. . .
Pastor Mark Surburg has written of it all here -- I encourage you to click on his blog and read up his summary of the history and the problems of confirmation day displacing Palm Sunday. It is surely true for Luther that his problems with confirmation had to do with the insufficiency of baptism and the requirement that episcopal confirmation add something to complete baptism. Nobody ever said that when I was confirmed but baptism was clearly an also ran to the emotional fervor and ceremonial attention given to confirmation on Palm Sunday. At least that is not much of a problem, here, anyway.
In the South confirmation is not so big among Lutherans. Families are spread out and there are no huge gatherings to honor the confirmand. The examination has been replaced with an essay. The time has shifted from Palm Sunday to Reformation Sunday (at least in my parish). Catechism classes are usually an also ran to soccer, baseball, basketball, football, dance, and every other extracurricular activity of school and home. Often the confirmation rite itself is but a blip on the radar of the busy schedules of our youth and their families. We work to make it bigger because it is almost a forgotten moment in the lives of our parish, the confirmands, and their families.
Some have moved it to low Sunday (not so good to connect catechumens with Thomas and his doubts) or Pentecost (it is okay to displace the Spirit but not Jesus on a donkey!?). Moving the date may be part of it but there is surely much more to this (as Pastor Surburg well explains). It is not just when we confirm but why. It is in the why that the biggest debate is taking place. Along with it is what the content of the catechesis ought to be. Those two questions are probably best reserved for their own blog post. In the meantime, reading Pastor Surburg has given me something to think about as I remember that day soon to be 50 years ago!
My own personal history lies in stark contrast with the way things are today. The suits have given way to jeans and sneakers. The white dresses have been replaced with slacks and casual tops. The day that once commanded place and privilege over Jesus and His donkey ride into Jerusalem has, for many, become an antiquated notion out of place with modern day schedules and priorities. Even good solid families within the parish find confirmation day a shadow of its former robust self. So what Luther was unable to do, culture has already done -- just not as Luther might have wanted.
Confirmation went from graduation to a minor promotion, from a celebration of learning to an emotional moment, and from something that competed with baptism to something the baptized struggle to explain (except in cultural terms). Sometimes I wonder. Should I be working as hard as I am to retain it or should we just bury it and start all over? In the end, I think it is worth rehabilitation. It is one more place where we stop the retreat of the faith and the faithful into a private faith that confesses a personal and subjective truth that has little to do with how one actually lives. I am certainly not ready to put it back on Palm Sunday but neither am I ready to give it up.