On Sunday, Reformed Church in America congregations across the United States and Canada will honor the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism by reciting Question and Answer 1 during worship. The Heidelberg Catechism is a teaching tool that instructs readers in the basics of Christian faith and reformed theology. I wonder if Zacharias Ursinus, the main author of the Heidelberg Catechism, could have ever imagined that his work would endure in the church for over four centuries. Pretty amazing to think about.
Many people who were raised in reformed denominations grew up memorizing the catechism. Even as the years marched on, and even if large parts of the catechism disappeared from memory, the promise and comfort of the very first Question and Answer seems to stay with people for life.
Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1
Q. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,
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 delivered me 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.
This simple, but profound declaration of the all-encompassing comfort we find in Jesus has been remembered in times of deep grief, in overwhelming uncertainty, in fear and in loneliness. Even though many churches no longer expect their young people to memorize the catechism, the truth of the God’s comfort is something that we all can find solace in.
Typically my husband and I preach from the texts in the Revised Common Lectionary, but we decided to deviate from that for 2013. Instead, we are reading through the Bible in a year with our congregation using this 52-week reading plan. For our worship services, we select one main text from the seven readings from the previous week. This week, our central Bible passage is Joel 2:1-14, with emphasis on verses 12-14.
Joel 2:12-14 (NRSV)
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,with fasting,
with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain-offering and a drink-offering
for the Lord, your God?
Prior to the children’s lesson, make some comfort squares. I’m making enough so that each child may have one, and hopefully enough extra that each child may take a second one to share with someone else. You will need fleece, felt, and fabric glue. I chose to sew around my comfort squares, but fabric glue would work, too. Each comfort square is made from two fleece squares.
Here’s my pile of squares
Cut out crosses from felt. I tried to make most of the comfort squares unique by doing different color combinations, but there’s nothing wrong with making all of them look the same.
I made 15 comfort squares. For 15 comfort squares, you will need to cut out 30 fleece squares that are all the same size. Glue a felt cross in the center of the top square. Then, either glue the two fleece squares together, or stitch around them on the sewing machine. I chose to sew mine together because it makes it more like a small pillow. The comfort squares are very soft.
God’s Comfort – a children’s sermon idea
- A stuffed animal or soft blanket
- Comfort squares
Show the kids a stuffed animal or blanket. I’m going to show the kids a stuffed bear that I got as a very small baby. I still have it, and it is very love-worn. Sometimes when scary things happen, or when we’re alone, or maybe if we’re having a hard time falling asleep at night, having something special like our favorite stuffed animal, or a special blanket can make us feel safe. They give us comfort. Comfort is when you feel safe and loved. Comfort is how you might feel when someone you really care about wraps you in a really big hug.
Did you know that God comforts us? Feel free to share with the kids a Bible verse about comfort, or even read them part of the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1. The Bible tells us that we belong to Jesus, and that means that Jesus cares for us and loves us. Even though we sin – we do things that God doesn’t want us to do – Jesus loves us, and Jesus saves us from our sins. If we are going through something really hard in our lives, or if we feel scared, or lonely, or worried about something, Jesus can comfort us. Isn’t that amazing? The love and comfort of Jesus is so important that I want you to be able to remember it. I made a comfort square for each of you. I want you to take this home, and keep it somewhere where you’ll always remember how much God loves you.
If there are enough extra comfort squares, invite the kids to take a second comfort square. I wanted to share God’s amazing comfort and love with you this morning, and it is such an awesome thing, that I want you to be able to share it with someone, too. Take your extra comfort square and share it with a friend or someone in your family. Let them know that they can always find comfort in Jesus.
And then invite the kids to pray a simple prayer with you. Perhaps something like: “Dear God, thank you so much for loving us. Help us always to remember that whenever we are afraid, or alone, or scared, or sad, that Jesus comforts us. We pray all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”