I am delighted to welcome Ray & Wendy, Denise, Symon, Jules & Kathryn into the full membership of the Christian church following their confirmations last month. It is always a joy to Sylvia and me to see growth in the church in such a way and perhaps especially so when the people concerned are of varying ages. I'm not sure that any of them would agree that they were old, but some of them certainly aren't. I think all of the group have told us what a moving spiritual experience their confirmation was. All of us need those occasional 'mountain top' experiences to enable us to plod on through the inevitable periods when our church life is routine and, occasionally, even difficult. I read this recently and it is worth passing on:
"I walked up the passage to my bedroom, went down on my knees, and asked for an explanation. As I did so, the glory of the universe shone before me – I was blinded by the dazzling white light. In my heart I flung my arms before my eyes, because I knew then that man could not look upon God and live. I was both terrified and uplifted – I can't explain it. I was shattered and then knew that I was nothing. All my conceit and personal esteem vanished. When I hear men say: “You can't prove there is a God!” I reply: “You wait until he has taken half a step towards you and you are left in no doubt.”
[a letter to Gerald Priestland, a former BBC religious affairs correspondent]
One of the saints the church recalled this month (on July 22nd) is Mary Magdalene. She is commonly supposed to be the woman of easy virtue (as one might say) who wiped Jesus feet with ointment and washed them with her tears. Because she desired
This month there is an important but often ignored religious festival and also the celebration of a key Christian sacrament. Sacraments are ceremonies like baptism where there is, in the phrase familiar at least to me, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Holy Communion is another, and here the sign is the bread and wine and the grace is Christ's nearer presence. This month's event is frequently an annual one only (or less, for that matter) and it is confirmation. The best way of looking at this is that it is a moment where someone who has been baptised as a child, as most of us were, can take a clear decision to commit their lives to Christ. Not by someone else, like a godparent, saying they will, but by themselves meaning it. The sign here is when a bishop lays hands on the candidate's head; and the grace is the gift of God's Holy Spirit who (He is a person, not a thing) will help us to keep the promise we have just made. We celebrate the gift of God's Spirit on Pentecost Sunday as well of course – watch out for the special effects this year!
If there is anyone out there who thinks, “I would like to know more about confirmation,” please give me a ring or have a word. More importantly, recall that confirmation is a sign of something deeper, which is a dawning of faith within a person.
I always like to look forward rather than backward. Maybe I'm just not quite old enough yet to be in permanent reminiscence mode! Seriously, though, there does come a time in life when there is little to look forward to. One way people cope with the approaching end of life is to say “I hope the Lord takes me.” Relatives might or might not take issue with this. But we have all known people, sometimes seriously ill, in other cases simply tired, whose time, one can see, has come. The oldest known person in the world died recently and he had a couple of bits of advice. One was, “Keep working as long as you can,” and the other was “We are all born to die.” Acceptance, then, is one way of dealing with the fact that there is no future.
Denial is another. I don't mean I expect to cheat death. But I do hope and pray that I shall, even at the end, hold on to Christ's promise that there is life beyond this earth. What did he say to the man hanging beside him on a cross? “Today you will see me in paradise.”