In March, the Catechism II class and I were planning to spend a Saturday afternoon together for a special catechism session. The nascent coronavirus was starting to gain ever increasing attention of the media and the medics. Like the virus itself, fear of the unknown was infecting society. The governor of California prophesied that 25.5 million Californians would have the coronavirus by mid-May. So, our catechetical afternoon together got postponed and then shutdown. It was a great disappointment because it is not everyday that one gets to eat exceptionally good pizza and talk theology with hungry, young theologians.

At that same time, other church activities were grinding to a halt under state and county directives contrary to the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Arguably at a time when people needed to be in church the most, many politicians and heath officials in California had decided that church was too great a threat to public health and well-being. In contrast, crowding into supermarkets in search of quickly dwindling stocks of toilet paper was, strangely, not a problem, although the lack of toilet paper was a problem for those without. The politicians and health officials were plainly on a roll, flushed with excitement, or something like that.

In the course of time, legal challenges put pressure on the governor of California to loosen restrictions on constitutionally protected but apparently easily suspended religious rights. By the end of May, churches could again hold in-person services indoors, but quickly that became only outdoors, which after about six weeks became indoors again. To facilitate all these changes, the church council considered installing revolving doors on all entrances to assist church attendance and to symbolize the various officials’ predilection for having the citizenry go round and round and round in socially distanced circles separated by plexiglass.

With autumn approaching, worship services moving back indoors, the school on campus holding in-person classes aided by a waiver, and some other schools returning to in-person instruction either partially or fully, the resumption of in-person catechism was proposed and agreed. There had been helpful and hopeful suggestions of holding catechism via other methods. For example, using Zoom was one idea, but unfortunately that would have mistakenly given the impression that catechism moves quickly with excitement! Of course it doesn’t.

More importantly, resuming catechism in-person (not rezooming in cyberspace) has been very important because it reflects the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the word made flesh who came to dwell among us. When Christ took on human flesh and entered into a world racked with human sin and death, the second person of the Trinity entered into our time and into our space in-person to be with us as one of us in the midst of our sinfully sick, fallen lives. With each passing day, Jesus seemed to become ever more enmeshed and mired in our human failings, but rather than recoiling therefrom, he reached out to others. He healed the sick and broken, welcomed the outcasts and unwanted, he challenged the authorities, he raised the dead, he forgave their sins, and with his word and example he gave those whom he met and touched new faith, hope, and love; things which the government of his day wanted to deny its citizens. Eventually, Jesus went way out on a limb (of a cross) and risked his life to bring God’s love and the gift of eternal life to people like us, locked down in the woeful uncertainty of our world.

In comparison, holding in-person catechism classes, socially distanced with other hygienic precautions, carries virtually no risk to life or limb. It seems almost trivial, but it is not. The word of God and its resultant Christian faith have very real, life-giving power. Since their earliest days, Christians have risked everything to gather, to teach, to learn, to sing, to pray, and to care in the same way that Jesus the Christ had embraced death so that others could embrace the promise of life which only he can give. Taking risks to share the gospel of Christ with others is thus essential and integral to being part of the body of Christ, i.e. the church. For us Lutherans, learning how Martin Luther defiantly risked his life to give us a pure proclamation of that same gospel has been figuratively and literally exemplary for the past five centuries.

All going according to plan, on Sunday, 29 November, St. Luke’s four catechism pupils will be confirmed. In so doing, they will have the opportunity to confess the faith publicly which was given to them in baptism. In so doing, they will confirm that they wish to continue to live as part of the body of Christ whose members they became in their baptism. In so doing, they will take on new responsibilities and new risks by living the miracle of faith which confesses Luther’s interpretation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed:

“I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church he daily and abundantly forgives all my sins, and the sins of all believers, and on the last day he will raise me and all the dead and will grant eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true.”