Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Liturgy Series Part I: Confession and Forgiveness

Christ icon that I made for a class project
using magazine pages, 2011
The Confession is one of the most bewildering parts of the liturgy and probably feels really uncomfortable to members of our worshipping communities that have not been a part of a congregation before.  That, and the fact that culturally, we do not spend much time talking about our human failings.  We would rather attempt to cover them up and polish up our image and do everything possible to get ahead.

 The minister leading the confession usually leads with some sort of introduction such as,

"Let us confess our sin in the presence of God and of one another..."

As a child, and even into young adulthood, I was attempting to list all of my sins in that short bit of silence.  I was frustrated by the fact that not only did I not have enough time to confess all my sins that I remembered (in my operating definition of the time, sins were all the bad things I did), I was tortured by the fact that I could not remember all of the things that I did wrong.  And reciting as corporate confession, such as that in setting one of the the Evangelical Lutheran Worship/ELW, our main worship book,

"Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.  We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  For the sake of your son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.  Forgive us, renew us, and lead, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen" 

sounded hollow at times.  These were not MY PERSONAL sins.  I was (and am) more likely to be jealous and mean to my sisters and impatient and controlling.  I found that I was frantically trying to confess all my sins as I remembered them and hoping to atone for them.

Martin Luther experienced these same frustrations and this is part of what led him to do much of his writings.  What makes Lutheran theology different is our understanding of sin.

This is probably going to come as a shock...

But sin is not something you do. It is a state in which you reside.  If we understand sin to be something we do, the reverse side is that we think there is something that we can do to save ourselves from that.  And that is simply not true.   Martin Luther refers to this as "incurvatus se" or the turning in upon the self.  What we testify to when we participate in the community confession is that we are utterly dependent on Christ.  We cannot save ourselves from sin, death, and all evil.

My friend Kae, who is the lead pastor at Mercy Seat (ELCA), describes confession in this way,

"Confession is me acknowledging that if Adam and Eve hadn't eaten that apple, I would have.  Confession is me acknowledging if those people who called for Jesus' death on Good Friday had not done so, I would have been the one shouting 'Crucify Him!'"  

Confession is painful because it gets at the very core of who we are.  But confession is not just confessing our sins.  The other component is just as important.  Forgiveness.

Confession and Absolution is proclamation of the Word.  We confess that we are dependent on Christ, but in the absolution (a fancy word for forgiveness) that is proclaimed for personally as Christ is "for you."  It is to say, Christ died for your sins for now and all time. You are forgiven. You are loved.  You belong.

The presiding minister (or any member of the priesthood of all believers, since we are all filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to forgive sins) says something along these lines,

"God who is rich in mercy, loved us even when we were dead in sin, and made us alive together with Christ.  By grace you have been saved.  In the name of Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven.  Almighty God strengthen you with power through the Holy Spirit, that Christ may live in your hearts through faith.  Amen."

And that is it.  It is done.  There is nothing left for us to do because it has already been done for us.  To that, I say, "Thanks be to God!"  We do not need to list all of our sins, because they are known and already forgiven.  God does not need us to enumerate them and to do penance for them.

Now, private confession and absolution for specific things that weigh on the heart is a rite in the Lutheran Church and I believe deeply in this for the burdened conscience.  But this is solely a matter of pastoral care, not a prerequisite for being "right with God."

It has already been done.  Amen.

Part II: Kyrie

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