As we progress towards Holy Week, I am skipping the very tempting April Fool’s urge here due to our current moment to focus upon getting ready for next week. Our final Lenten habit, one so familiar to Roman and Anglican Catholics and so odd to more Protestant and evangelical folk, is Confession. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer finds literary middle ground here by re-casting private confession as The Reconciliation of a Penitent beginning on page 447. But toe-MAY-toe or toe-MAA-toe, let’s work the whole thing out by whatever name suits us best!
Axiomatically it does no good to work towards forgiveness of others of we cannot receive God’s gracious forgiveness for ourselves first. Jesus only referenced this about every ten minutes in the gospel canon we enjoy today! The Prayer Book tradition reflects the epic Protestant repudiation of medieval Catholicism’s bad habit of tying sacramental confession to financial largess, originally only to forgive past trespasses but increasingly, as the Catholic bureaucracy needed funding for lavish construction projects, purchase grace for future sins also. Peter’s keys jangled rather prominently throughout several hundred years as this toxic collusion co-mingled God’s grace with capital projects funding, seeding the theological ground (or some might say “salted” the ground) for Martin Luther’s tectonic, abhorrent rejection of indulgences for sale. Luther’s theological insurgency became a rebellion, and ultimately for much of northern Europe, a revolution we cast more politely as a Reformation. British Christians took the middle way, predictably, in their own national reconsideration of papal insular oversight we call…wait for it…so technical…the English Reformation! As Presbyterian Scots roared vehement condemnation of anything remotely reminiscent of Catholicism (and let’s face it, if it upsets the English the Scots roar even louder) up north, down south the Prayer Book tradition included sacramental confession not as a private priest-penitent party but rather in Sunday worship in shared, congregational, common fashion. Hence our Sunday confession prayed all together, clergy and people, to this day.
It then took several hundred years more for private, or howsabout we say “personal,” confession to re-appear in the 1979 American Prayer Book. And Bob’s your uncle. Thank goodness it’s here before we launch into Holy Week! Because we all need a way to cleanse the spiritual palate, sanitize our soul eating surface and get whatever we need to off our chest before following Jesus to the cross and empty tomb. Using this format (either the more pedestrian Form One or the more dramatic Form Two), or another format, I invite us to make a confession to our heavenly Father in our personal prayer space sometime this week. Soul house-cleaning as it were. I need to off-load some small and some larger items burdening my soul, and perhaps you might also. Out loud is fine. Writing stuff down and burning it (carefully please) also fine. While Emily and I cannot receive your confession remotely for sacramental absolution, upper management offers a 24 hour hotline! God is always more ready to hear than we to pray the bible assures us, and now is a good time to do something good for the soul! Leave the baggage behind to move forward!
- I recommend a quiet, private space with no interruptions. Use these forms and amend the priestly absolution with a simple request, “Please Lord, forgive me…” and the like. If you need to image Emily or I or another spiritual guide for you pronouncing these powerful words, please do.
- The conversion of Paul in Acts, Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son (or, the older I get, the ridiculously loving Father!), the Lukan thief on the cross with Jesus…all are powerful stories of personal conversion and repentance. Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant always, always brings tears to my eyes, a modern parable of self-forgiveness and repentance.
- Leave that space like those items stay there forever! The only person who can take them back is you! You are free!