GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
What about the first reading?
Well if you go back to Acts 8:5-8, we actually have a text here, once again, that’s a window onto the early Church.
We are, during the Easter season, looking at what Christianity looked like in the early days.
We are going back to the birth of the Church and in Acts 5:5-8 we get another window onto another sacrament.
In this case the power of the sacrament we are looking at is what will later go on to be called the Sacrament of Confirmation.
So I want to read the story.
You might think at first glance, “what does this have to do with Confirmation?”
I’ll make it clear in just a second.
This is a story of Philip, who was one of the deacons we saw in the Acts of the Apostles 6, he goes off into Samaria, which if you have been following the videos, you know from our study of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, was a place that was known for having the mixed descendants of both Israelites and Gentiles in the northern part of the Holy Land, who were very much at odds with the Jewish people.
The Jewish people saw them as cut off, like apostates.
They didn't have a healthy relationship.
But after the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, Philip, as a deacon, goes to the land of Samaria in order to evangelize, in order to bring the Gospel to them.
And this is what happens, Acts 8:5 and following says:
Philip went down to a city of Sama'ria, and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did.
For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.
So there was much joy in that city.
Now if you skip down — in this case the lectionary actually skips several verses in which Philip not only preaches, but also baptizes various men and women amongst the Samaritans.
But if you skip down, the lectionary picks up in verse 14 and it says this:
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Sama'ria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
What is going on here?
Why are Peter and John sent down to Samaria to lay hands on people?
Why didn't Philip just do that is kind of the question behind the story.
So obviously what is happening here is Philip, the deacon, is evangelizing and he obviously has the power to preach and the power to baptize, but when it comes to this rite of laying hands on the people so that they can receive the Holy Spirit, that's evidently something that only Peter and John, who were two of the Apostles, could do.
So they come all the way down from Jerusalem — actually it is up because it is North, but you get the idea —to Samaria in order to lay hands on these recent converts and give them the Holy Spirit.
You might be confused, you might think “Well wait a second, don't you receive the Holy Spirit when you're baptized?
It says they had been baptized.”
And the answer is yes, of course you do receive the Holy Spirit in baptism, but obviously here Luke is describing some other gift of the Holy Spirit, some other special bestowal of the Holy Spirit that only Peter and John can do, and that they do not by immersing them in water, like with Baptism, but rather by laying hands on their head.
Well what is this a reference to?
If you look at the ancient Church Fathers, if you look at the tradition of the Church, this has always been seen as the origins of what we now call the Sacrament of Confirmation.
In the West we call it Confirmation; among Eastern Catholics and Eastern Christians, they call it Chrismation, because the laying on of hands is accompanied by an anointing as well, Chrism being the Greek word for oil.
So what's going on here?
This is an extremely important passage, because it is basically the first witness to the Sacrament of Confirmation in the early Church and it tells us a few things about this Sacrament. First, number one, that it's different than Baptism.
It is not the same thing as Baptism.
Philip baptizes people, he's a deacon, but only the Apostles lay hands to give this special gift of the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, not only is it a different rite, but it is carried out by different people.
Why is it that Philip couldn't do it?
Well if you look at the history of the Church, that's not a power that deacons have.
They don't have the power to confirm.
They have the power to preach, they have the power to baptize, but they don't have the power to confirm, because that special gift of the Holy Spirit that is tied to confirmation has to do with the preaching of the Gospel — in a sense to the bearing witness to Christ — and so it's fitting that the Apostles themselves would lay hands on the people to give them that special grace of the Holy Spirit that completes their baptism, and then sends them out as missionaries themselves, as the ones to go out and spread the good news in their lives through their witness and through their daily life and through their conversations and their witness to Christ.
I love this passage because one of the sacraments that was rejected by many of the Protestant reformers at the time of the Reformation was Confirmation.
It was claimed that Confirmation was un-biblical, and so so many Christian denominations don’t even have Confirmation anymore because they don't see the word confirmation anywhere in the Bible.
And it is true, if you look at the New Testament, will you find the word confirmation?
No, absolutely not.
But do you find the reality there?
Absolutely, yes, you see it right here in Acts 8.
So what is Confirmation?
It is a special grace of Holy Spirit that can only be given by the Apostles and their successors, and it's tied to the ritual of the laying on of hands.