Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a confessional church. That means that we have a set of confessions that articulate many of our beliefs as they have developed through the centuries of institutional church. The Book of Confession is always secondary to scripture. The confessions came out of various times of struggle in the church beginning with the Apostles’ Creed in the fourth century all the way through the late twentieth century with The Brief Statement of Faith.
In the fall of 1985, I was preparing to take ordination exams at Princeton Theological Seminary. Ordination exams are not a graduation requirement but for Presbyterians the passing of these five exams are a requirement for ordination. When I took the exams, they were given over three very intense days during the first weekend of November. Your first objective when you returned to school in the fall of your third year was to find a study group (preferably with very smart people) to help you prepare for these exams. Jenny Warren and I were part of the same group and we became study partners through that fall. As you can imagine, anxiety rides very high in this time. You have studied for two years. You have managed to get through Greek and Hebrew and now there are these exams – like CPA exams or the Bar exam or the nursing exam. We wrote out our answers long hand in a blue book. We studied for six weeks leading up to the exams while at the same time taking a semester course load.
I was full of anxiety and Jenny suggested we memorize something that we could say to each other and to ourselves every time we got overly anxious. She suggested Question 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
It got us through the exams and both of us, as well as our entire study group, passed all the exams on the first try! I cannot remember Question 1 by memory anymore but I do remember the part that says I belong body and soul to Jesus Christ and I live for him.
In these days of pandemic, I know that some of you have expressed concern for me. My voice sounds burdened and perhaps I look burdened to you on Sunday mornings. I am thankful for your concern. At the same time, I want to reassure you that I am doing well. I am getting more sleep than usual. Ken and I are getting along just fine. Our children all have essential jobs so there are no unemployment concerns. I miss all of you and there are days when, like the rest of you, I feel a little “heavier” than usual. On those days, I remember to whom I belong and for whom I live. Some days I do feel the weight of the world – it’s just who I am and have always been – but I never forget, and I urge you to never forget, that in life and in death we belong to Jesus Christ. It is for him that we live. Stay well.