Given the baptismal theology of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, that is that baptism is “full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church,” it has often been said that Confirmation is left as something of a vestigial service, a liturgy in search of a theology. While I’ve not done the deep research to confirm, I have it on good authority that in the months leading up to the 1976 General Convention, it was thought that Confirmation would not end up in the final draft of the revised Book of Common prayer. Evidence in the book suggests that even as it was inserted late in the game, its placement in Pastoral Offices, rather than the Episcopal Services, betrays the fact that many thought that it was unlikely Confirmation would stick around as the thing bishops did when they showed up in a parish.
Deep within this vestigial liturgy, tucked way behind eight graders looking to graduate from Sunday school and that certain kind of person who actually takes changing traditions seriously enough to mark it liturgically by way of Reception, is the possibility for one to reaffirm their Christian faith. It gets nary a mention in Concerning the Service or the Additional Directions, so we’ve had to kind of make up what it means. Still, I think it is actually the most useful portion of this service, and we ignore it to our detriment. Although it only gets less than three lines of text, the prayer that the bishop is to pray for those who are reaffirming their baptismal promises is a powerful one:
N., may the Holy Spirit, who has begun a good work in you, direct and uphold you in the service of Christ and his kingdom. Amen.
If you’ve been reading ahead to Sunday’s Second Lesson from Philippians 1, you might recognize these words as being grounded in Scripture. In the opening acclamation appointed for Advent 2C, we hear Paul doing his normal thing by heaping prayers and praises upon the heads of the Christians in Philippi. Included are these words, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
In the Greek, the words translated as “completion” has its root in telos, which means something deeper than simply checking a task off the list. Instead, the telos of God’s good work begun is its perfect end. It is Paul’s prayer for the Church in Philippi, and while the Reaffirmation prayer doesn’t include the full text, I believe it is what we are praying for in that service as well. Those who come to make a public reaffirmation of their baptismal promises do so for a reason. It might be because they are coming back to the Church after time away. It may be because they’ve found a new calling in lay ministry. Whatever it is, the prayer we offer to God on their behalf is that whatever good work has begun, whether 9 weeks or 90 years ago, might be brought to its perfect end, to the benefit of the Kingdom, through God’s direction and upholding.
The Bishop won’t be coming for several months, but this Advent 2, my prayer for each of you, dear readers, is that God’s good work begun in you might be sustained and fulfilled by its perfect completion.