3/24/2017 5:01:04 PM
We Need Private Absolution
Midweek Leftover: Sometimes when you prepare a delicious meal, you can’t eat it all at once. Sometimes everything a passage teaches can’t fit into one sermon. I enjoy leftovers, sometimes it is nice to use those leftovers to make a new dish. That is my goal with this leftover from Wednesday’s sermon.
(If weren’t able to attend and haven’t listened to Wednesday’s sermon, you can find it here: http://www.corvallislutherans.org/site/file.asp?sec_id=180003462&file_id=180445806&table=file_downloads)
A man is racked with guilt and enters a giant church and stumbles his way into the confessional. He enters one side and the priest opens the divider where he sits behind a privacy screen waiting to listen. “Forgive me, father, I have sinned. It has been [so long] since my last confession.” The priest then encourages the penitent to confess his sins.
This scene almost always takes place in a Roman Catholic Church. The confessor is almost always a priest. And after the confession is received the priest gives advice, assigns penance (Hail Mary’s, Our Fathers, or other works to pay for the temporal punishment of sin,) And then with the assurance that he will perform this penance the, penitent is told to go in the peace of God’s mercy.
For most of us, confession is a “Catholic” thing. But it isn’t; confession is a “catholic” thing. Confession, or as Lutherans prefer to call it, absolution, is part of being in the universal Church. We enter the Church through baptism, where God washes away our sins. The Holy Spirit keeps us in the faith through daily repentance worked by the power of the Word. Christ feeds our faith with his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. However, private confession is also a gift God gives to strengthen us and keep us in the one true faith. It is a gift we are unwise to neglect. Our Lutheran Confessions speak this way about Confession and Absolution”
Concerning confession it is taught that private absolution should be retained and not abolished, although in confession enumeration of all sins is not necessary. (Augsburg Confession, Article XI)
It is well known that we have so explained and extolled the benefit of absolution and the power of the keys that many trouble consciences have received consolation from our teaching. They have heard that it is a command of God—indeed, the very voice of the gospel—so that we may believe the absolution and regard as certain that the forgiveness of sins is given to us freely on account of Christ and that we should maintain that we are truly reconciled to God by this faith. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XI)
(See also the Small Catechism on the Keys and Confession, as quoted in my sermon.)
We may ask, why? Why should we bother? After all, we have confession and absolution at the beginning of [most of] our services. Pastor preaches (or he should) the forgiveness of sins in every sermon. We are often reminded of our baptism and its benefits. We receive the Lord’s Supper regularly for the forgiveness of our sins. Why add this awkward and uncomfortable and embarrassing and time consuming practice back into our religious lives?
The Apostle John said it best. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
How often do we deceive ourselves? We keep a sin tucked away in our hearts and pretend that it isn’t that bad. How often do we deceive ourselves? We wonder if God has really forgiven that sin. We carry its burden around with us. We lose sleep, and try to comfort ourselves, but the comfort is hard to find. At times, we choose our confessors poorly. We turn to a friend when we feel guilty, but all they do is try to cheer us up or distract us from our uncertainty. The burden remains. Confession and especially absolution, give us what we really need, “God is faithful and just and will forgive us all our sins.”
In baptism, God applies his grace to you, you personally, with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are clothed with Christ. You are God’s own child. You are marked with the cross. In the Lord’s Supper, you are fed Christ’s body, given for you. You drink Christ’s blood, shed for you and personally receive the forgiveness of sins. The sacraments apply God’s grace personally to you through physical means. Absolution does the same with the spoken word. This forgiveness is for you! That sin has been forgiven. You are forgiven and are purified from all unrighteousness. We can hear the absolution every Sunday and know we are forgiven, but we still need the personal proclamation of Christ, from his servant. You are forgiven. Jesus longs to intercede for you. Jesus longs to silence your accuser, the devil. Jesus longs to forgive you. In private absolution, you always hear the voice of your Savior, speaking directly to your heart. You pray, “Father, forgive me.” Jesus proclaims your sins are forgiven.
How does this work? Your pastor is always available to hear confession. Call him and make an appointment. He, vested in the clothes of his office, will remind you of Luther’s instructions in the Small Catechism. You will pray together. You will confess the sin(s) which trouble you. You will receive forgiveness as from Christ himself. Together you will give thanks to God. You will go in peace.
As a way to encourage this practice in our own congregation. I would like to offer times for private confession more regularly. In the evening of the first Saturday of the month (before the first service with the Lord’s Supper) I will be available to offer absolution. During Holy Week, I will also offer times for confession each day. (To be announced as that week approaches.) Apart from this, do not carry your sins, I will always make time for absolution when you need it.
To God alone be the Glory