February 21, 2017
Every year on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the Church takes a moment to pause and offer a radical opportunity to her people: the chance to confess personal sin to another person. The timing of this opportunity is no coincidence, as Ash Wednesday begins the penitential journey of Lent and Good Friday ends it. However, it can be hard to understand the value of verbally confessing something you're ashamed of to another person, especially since we're given the opportunity every week to confess directly to the Lord through our Sunday liturgy.
The answer lies in the understanding of confession as a sacramental act. Like the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, confession is meant to take us straight to the cross, where God's justice and mercy become one in the death of Jesus. When we stop and confess our sin, we give proper weight to the grievous hold it has on our hearts, minds, and bodies, and admit ourselves guilty in nailing Jesus to the cross. But immediately after that acknowledgment comes the assurance of forgiveness as we hear Jesus say, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). After we confess our sins, we stand free in the gift of the Resurrection: freedom from being slaves to sin and healing joy in living life with Jesus.
You may note that there is nothing new or surprising in this process for a believer. This is, in fact, the fundamental arc of faith: the realization of our sinfulness and desperate need for Jesus, and the receiving of his forgiveness through the cross. What is unique to confession, however, is the embodied act of confessing sin to another person.
When we stop and verbalize the sins that act as stumbling blocks in our walk with the Lord, we break one of Satan's chief weapons against us: isolation. Satan knows that we are the most vulnerable when we are alone with ourselves, stuck in sinful patterns and too embarrassed to admit them to anyone else. He whispers in our hearts that if anyone else knew the awful things we do or think or feel, they would reject us. Sometimes he even convinces us that Jesus will reject us if we admit the extend of our guilt to Him.
When you break that isolation and speak out loud the sins that weigh you down to someone else, healing flows in. The pastors who hear your confession are not there to judge and condemn, but rather to proclaim Christ's forgiveness in an embodied way. This embodied, concrete experience of repentance and forgiveness ministers more deeply the blessed assurance of the Gospel: that your sins truly are forgiven by the power of the cross, and that you can walk in the dignity of being a beloved son or daughter of Christ.
This is why the Church offers confessions on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is an opportunity to expose the sin that so easily entangles us within the community of the body of Christ, all the better to receive the fullness of our freedom in Christ on Easter Sunday.
Go to this webpage for more details about making confession on Ash Wednesday.
March 03, 2014
“[Lent] was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church."-BCP
I don't know about you, but I don't think of myself as a “notorious" sinner. If anything, I pride myself on keeping my sins cloaked in a discreet cloud of humility, penetrable only by those close enough to me that they see through my politeness. Yet every year I look forward to Ash Wednesday, the day that I can literally wear the awareness of my sinfulness on my forehead. I love to go to the earlier service so that I can be reminded all day long of my need to repent, and by the time the dark smudge has worn off of my forehead it is time for the evening service, where I can be reminded all over again.
Ash Wednesday has its roots in the penance of individuals who had committed what the Book of Common Prayer calls “notorious sins." The imposition of ashes can be dated back to the 9th century, but the Order of Penitents, as it was called, dates at least to the 4th. This Order was specifically for individuals who were already baptized but then committed grave enough sins that, when they confessed them to their bishop, they were assigned acts of penance. These included wearing garments that set them apart from other Church members and being sprinkled with ashes when they were admitted into the order. This sign of penance was then adopted for all church members on the day before Lent as a sign that all were sinners and needed to repent before celebrating Christ's return at Easter.
Each year at Resurrection we enter into the great Lenten season with the Ash Wednesday service as a means to remind ourselves that we all belong in the Order of Penitents. But even as the priest is imposing ashes on our foreheads and praying “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return: repent and believe the Gospel," he is making the sign of the cross on our forehead- the same sign that he makes on the forehead of the newly baptized on Easter Sunday as they are declared “marked as Christ's own forever." Penitence is ultimately about being brought back in to communion with Christ and with his Church, and thus even in the midst of the sober reality of our notorious sinfulness we as Christians can look forward with hope to the all embracing joy of Christ's love at Easter.