Is There Good News for Disabled People?
Is there room at the font and the table for children with disabilities? What about adults? Is there space for a disabled baby in the water? Is there a chair at the table for someone who's mentally disabled? For Christians, the question strikes at the foundation of what it means to be called the "communion of saints," or, "the Church." Are God's gifts handed out indiscriminately, or not? Lutherans, unlike modern Protestants, don't believe the Bible teaches that Baptism follows faith as a person’s voluntary, cognitive act of obedience to Christ’s command. Instead, we believe the Holy Spirit calls sinners through the Gospel and enlightens them with His gifts, meaning Baptism and the Lord's Supper in particular. It's not a child's decision to include himself in the "all nations" Jesus speaks of to his disciples. Instead, God's Spirit pursues sinners from conception to the grave with his life-giving Gospel and gifts.
Baptism is how each old Adam is birthed into the Church, always against his will. The Spirit washes and weans old Adam on the tangible Gospel at the font - water and God's Word.
So then, can someone who's born a child of Adam and Eve, who bears the marks of a fallen and wrecked world in his body and mind, who suffers profound intellectual disabilities “consciously and freely turn to Christ and follow him in baptism"? No! Of course he can't. And, of course, this means he can never be a part of the Church. He can never share the table with those who are called "children of God." But, thank Christ, it's not up to us to consciously and freely do anything, except to sin and resist God's grace.
Instead, God has already decided for people who suffer profound intellectual disabilities. For proof, we don't have to look anywhere else but Golgotha. Before we even had time to consider who "them" was when Jesus cried, "Father, forgive them, because they don't know what in the world they're doing!", God consciously and freely "chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4).
There's no question about it. The blood and water that pour from Jesus' side at Calvary pour out to cover the profoundly disabled too.
The Water and the Blood, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, are more than just symbols we choose to participate in to show we're pious Christians. The Water and the Blood are Christ for us. Word. Water. Bread. Wine. God's promise made tangible. Poured over our heads, into our ears, and down our throats, and we don't even have to understand what's being done to us!
We don't have to respond to the Gospel to get the Gospel. We don't have to say, "Yes, please do come in," to God's Spirit. He's not a vampire. He doesn't need to be invited in before He can grace our lives.
It's just as Martin Luther writes in his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, in the Small Catechism:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
Who's doing the doing? Who's running the verbs of salvation? The Spirit is, that's Who. Who's receiving? Who's receiving the verbs of salvation? We are! All gift from God's fatherly hand for us, without exception.
As St. Paul writes, in Christ there is no discrimination. He's the Savior of the world. All are one in Christ Jesus. By His bloody suffering and death He's broken down the walls that stand between us, even the wall between able-bodied and disabled people.
In Christ, there are no able-bodied and disabled people. There is no distinction between intellectually gifted people and those with profound intellectual disabilities. All are one in Christ Jesus - one Lord, one baptism, one faith.
We don't choose to accept God into our hearts. We don't decide to believe. We don't freely and consciously come to the font to receive Jesus as Savior and be welcomed into the Church. Instead, God freely and consciously chose us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world.
God calls us through the Gospel. God enlightens us with His gifts. God sanctifies us and keeps us in the Church with Jesus Christ. God daily and abundantly forgives all our sins. On the Last Day, God will raise us from the dead and welcome us, all of us who are in Christ, to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb without end. And on that day all of us who judge based on what we see, what the CAT scans show, what a person can decide for himself, or confess for himself, or walk to by himself, will rejoice... because at the Feast of the Lamb we'll see each other as the Father has always seen us, His beloved children. Bodied and bloodied little Christs gifted with glorious bodies and minds—resurrected bodies and minds.
Is there room at the font and the table for children with disabilities? What about adults? Is there space for a disabled baby in the water? Is there a chair at the table for someone who's mentally disabled? Of course, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. All of us for whom Jesus prays, "Father, forgive them, because they don't know what they're doing." All of us for whom God the Father says, "I will. I do." All of us, without exception. AMEN.