In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unfortunately, many people seem to believe that when they have been catechized, or confirmed, that they have graduated like they are in school. For pastors it is strange to see people who they have taught from divine revelation about the merciful gifts of God to neglect the very things that they have been taught as if they have
outgrown Christ and His Church. How does one outgrow Christ and His gifts? How does one outgrow the holy faith? How does one who is taught of the mysteries of salvation not value the worship of God and the communion of the saints? Is it true, as I was told on one occasion, that we might be saved if we live as we see fit and then repent of all our sins just before we die? No, the Christian does not wait for death to repent. Nor does the Christian see the faith as child’s play. Catechesis, if it is what it is – instruction in the faith – is really a lifelong process. That is, faith always seeks God and what He has to teach us. Catechesis then includes everything that is involved in that teaching and learning. The classes before Holy Baptism, the classes before First Communion and Confirmation, sessions before Holy Matrimony, Sunday School and Adult Classes are only part of a larger whole that includes the Church gathered together in worship. The faith is taught, proclaimed, heard and learned in the Scriptures, the liturgy and the hymnody. Since the faith is the work of God through His Word and means of grace there is no limits of age or understanding. All are gathered together and drawn to Christ and His cross through His Word and the holy Sacraments and are built up in the one true and holy faith. This is why parents and godparents make a public promise to bring their children to the Lord’s house after baptism, why we are taught the value of hearing the Word of God and receiving frequently the blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Learning the Scriptures and the Catechism are only the beginning of delving into the mysteries of things we will not fully understand until the Last Day.
This faith leads us to seek the face of God in Jesus Christ while He may be found. The Catechism summarizes the benefits of eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ in a way that demands faith to understand, “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” In these few words we are given a picture of the abundant blessing that the believer receives in the Sacrament through the forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness of sins is not something we outgrow. The Lord includes it as a main petition in the prayer He taught us. The forgiveness of sins is central to our life with God in Christ and so too our lives with one another. Together with forgiveness there is life and salvation. This is not something we wait for until our deathbed. These blessings are ours beginning in Baptism and are cherished daily in our life in Christ. Forgiveness of sins is found in the proclamation of the Gospel, in the washing of regeneration and in the words of our Lord at the altar. Holy Absolution is applied to believers at the beginning of the liturgy when sins are confessed and when the individual makes confession to the pastor in private. Faith is a daily matter and eternal life is not something we have to wait for. Christ and His gifts are present with His Church. He is in our midst.
Forgiveness flows from God’s mercy in Christ to His Church and then into the world. The Risen Lord breathed His Spirit on Peter and the Apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The Apostle Paul instructed the young pastor
. . . be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.
(1 Timothy 4:12-16)
At the Confession of sins of Christ’s baptized people the pastor announces the grace of God and “in the stead and by the command of [his] Lord Jesus Christ” forgives them “in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are amazed that God has given such authority to men. Then we are like the paralytic who has been raised. Jesus says, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” Because Jesus is the Son of Man who redeems us we are forgiven indeed and called “sons of God.” Having received God’s forgiveness in Christ we arise and go with His peace into the world. There we are called upon to live in His peace in our vocations, forgiving as He has forgiven us.
Forgiveness is a difficult thing to do. Jesus knew that the scribes doubted Him and accused Him of blasphemy for forgiving the paralytic. He knew what was going on in their hearts. He said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” They knew that only God could forgive sins and yet they did not see that God was there forgiving sins in front of them. Therefore Jesus gives them a sign that His forgiveness is God’s forgiveness. He tells the paralytic, “Arise,” and the man is healed. The miracle is being able to see Christ when He is in the midst of His people. This is possible only by God’s grace in Christ through the eyes of faith. “. . . There is a bodily sign in order to demonstrate a spiritual sign, though its impact is to curb the imperfections of body and soul.” (Jerome, ACCS, 175) When the multitudes saw this they glorified God “who had given such power to men.” The man is able to walk and return to his own house, healed in both body and soul.
It is frightful to face death without having one’s sins forgiven by Christ, for no one returns to the eternal home unless forgiveness of sins has been granted . . . But the reason here for honor offered to God is this: Power was given through God’s Word to humanity for the remission of sins, the resurrection of bodies and the return to heaven. (Hilary, ACCS, 176) Because the Lord is Himself the Resurrection (Ambrose, Toal, IV, 182)
We do not see anything spectacular when a baby is baptized, when a pastor absolves the congregation, when we receive Christ’s Body and Blood at the altar in the bread and wine yet we are invited to trust, as He promises us, that His forgiveness is so real that we can even see and taste it. The crucified and Risen Lord is in our midst and He makes it possible for us to return to our heavenly home. Just as He is risen from the dead and has ascended into heaven so He leads those drawn to Him at the cross to heavenly glory with the Father.
This divine work continues in the Church until the Last Day. We do not graduate from the holy faith in this lifetime. Rather catechesis teaches us to see and receive the blessings that are ours today and every day in Christ Jesus. Christ has placed you and me here in His Church where He chooses to be with us and bless us. He gives His Church both a command and a promise that brings forgiveness of sins and healing of body and soul to those who believe. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” In the holy Church, Christ gives us rest and prepares us for the eternal Sabbath rest that is to come. In the Apostles’ Creed we confess our faith in “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” These blessings all go together and they are all ours in Christ Jesus who is in our midst. This is true again as we gather at the altar in holy Communion with Him. Through the Church the Lord calls all to communion with Him and the Father and keeps us together with Him in the one true faith. Forgiveness is a difficult thing to do. Yet
In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the
sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead,
and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. (SC, Art. III)
Christ has called you and me to be here in this time and place in the one holy Church. Here He comes to us and freely forgives us with all the mercy that flows from His cross as He promised. He does for us what we neither deserve nor are able to do for ourselves. To Him Who heals us in body and soul and Who enables us to arise and return Home be all glory, now and forever. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.