This week we explore the Confession and Absolution of Sin.
The Priest or Deacon begins with an invitation to confess our sins to Almighty God. We are reminded that the church along with the rest of humanity struggles with sinfulness. The church is a community of people looking for healing. It is a hospital for those who recognize that life could be so much more but are unable to heal themselves. Both of the invitations included in the Anglican Standard Form remind us that it is God alone who has the power (is almighty) to forgive our sins and make us well. The gospel accounts tell us that Jesus stirred up the ire of many of his fellow Jews by forgiving sins (Matthew 9:1-11; Mark 2:4-6; Luke 5:19-21). This is one way that Jesus proclaimed his divinity to the world.
Christians have practiced one form of confession or another since Christ himself. The act of corporate or general confession is not found in the oldest liturgies but is found in the most ancient Anglican liturgies including the 1548 Book of Common Prayer. Confessing as a group reminds us that Christians are united as one body. We all bring our individual sins to this confession but we recognize that our sins affect the whole body of Christ. We come as one body or as a family before Almighty God because that is how He desires us to be. Saint Paul speaking about our Christian unity states that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26) We confess together sharing in each other’s suffering and rejoice together in God’s mercy and forgiveness.
In our Prayer Book tradition we see that confession is connected to receiving communion. At its base element a true confession is all about fixing relationships. We cannot truly receive what God has to offer us in communion unless we first desire to be in a good relationship (in communion) with Him and His people. The first invitation makes the connection with receiving communion more explicit by stating that we are to draw near with faith. “In the 1548 form draw near literally meant that those who intended to receive were to move from the nave to the chancel near the altar.” We no longer draw near the same way but we still have the same intention. The act of repentance is intimately connected with the act of communion. The Book of Common Prayer tells us that if we do not first repent we should not come to God’s Holy Table. (Book of Common Prayer 2019, p.147)
After the invitation a moment of silence is observed. This is done so that we may all reflect on our heart’s disposition to the Lord. What are the thoughts, words and deeds that may have taken us away from a right relationship with our God? What have we been placing between ourselves and our creator? How have we neglected to love our neighbor?
After this silence we join together with the words of the confession. We find that this prayer can express what we might have trouble putting into words. It guides us into a right disposition before the Lord. We say that God is justified in being angry with us because of our sins and offences. Our sin has justified our condemnation and death. This prayer captures the depth of pain our brokenness has caused in both ourselves and in God. We see our broken relationship as a burden that is too heavy for us to lift. I am reminded of the Icon Anastasis or Resurrection. In this icon, Jesus is standing on the gates of death and he is pulling a weak Adam and Eve out of the grave by the wrists. Their burden is intolerable. They are dead. They are unable to lift themselves up out of the grave. For Jesus Christ’s sake they are saved! We call upon the Lord knowing that He offers mercy on all who are burdened.
The rubric or rule says that the bishop or priest pronounces the absolution.The reason the prayer book stresses the bishop as the pronouncer of the absolution is because of the apostolic authority that comes with his position. The apostles were primarily witnesses of the truth found in Jesus. Jesus tells His apostles to proclaim this truth to the world and in doing so gives them the authority to testify to His words and deeds. Our bishop is the apostolic witness in our diocese. He has been given authority by God to tell people the truth about Jesus. When he says that God has forgiven your sins through the work of Christ, he can be trusted because of his apostolic connection. The local priest’s authority comes from serving under a bishop. Without a bishop a priest does not have this authority. When you hear the words of the absolution we understand the celebrant of the service as echoing what God pronounces to His people.
God’s mercy does not leave us where we left off. In our confession we ask God for newness of life so that we with God’s help can serve and please our Lord. It is this theme that the words of the absolution picks up on. God does not just forgive us but wants us empowered to live rightly with Him. The priest prays that the Lord would confirm and strengthen you in all goodness! Our liturgy tells us that this confession is a springboard for God to work in our lives.
Holy Trinity Anglican Church
PO Box 81804, San Diego, CA 92138