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.
June 19, 2014
How did I lose joy?
I must have failed to hold onto it, I think. Perhaps I left it in a corner, forgot it completely, and it wandered off, hoping to find a home where it wouldn't be neglected. “I've lost my joy," I tell my husband, and he nods.
Oh dear, it's noticeable!
Where do I begin looking for joy?
I try singing as I do the tasks that annoy me most. I hum as I pack the children's lunches, warble in the car, belt it out when I de-clutter the living room.
Where are you, joy? I wonder. I can't sing any louder. Can't you hear me?
I try putting on a show of it. Didn't I hear a pastor say once that the outward action of love can kindle the feeling?
Or was that my college drama director talking about action and emotion?
I'm not sure, but I try it.
Smile, I tell myself.
I shove grumpiness down, swat selfish thoughts like pesky gnats.
Joy, come back! Please.
I am sitting, alone at my desk, absorbed in work, when I sense a presence nearby.
Joy? Are you there? I caught a glimpse of you.
But when the house bustles again, when children's squabbles break the quiet—joy recedes.
Oh, I realize, I am allowing the noise to drive joy away. But joy doesn't have to have peace and quiet. Joy doesn't mind chaos or excitement.
I haven't lost joy.
I've sent it away.
I am telling it when it can be present, and when it can't.
How do I invite joy into my full life—all of it? How do I keep from shutting it out?
Still missing joy, I go to the Good Friday service.
It is good to reflect, to be with others, all reflecting together.
We sing, we read, we listen.
But I am waiting, though I don't know what I am waiting for.
There is something here for me tonight. I'm not sure how I know this, but I do.
The sermon is finished. We have taken communion. My shoulders slump. It was good, but…
The bishop speaks again. “Some of you have lost your joy," he says. “You've lost the joy of your salvation, your redemption. Come to the cross."
My hands tremble.
My body feels light.
This is for me. I know this.
It may be for others as well, but it is clearly for me.
But I will have to get up, cross the room, walk in front of so many sets of eyes.
The bishop is still speaking. “Come. We will pray for you, that here at the cross you will remember your source of joy."
I get up, quick.
My husband, beside me, stands, too.
“Do you want me to come with you?"
By the time we reach the cross, there are others.
I am not the only one. We have all lost joy.
The bishop prays. Others pray. I hear only snatches of their words over the music.
But that is all right, because I need to hear the song most of all.
“Behold the man upon the cross,
My sin upon his shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held him there…"
Somehow, in the second of space before the next line of the song, I experience guilt, sorrow, despair. I did send you there. It was my sin. It was my selfishness. Oh God, I love You, but I don't know how to stop hurting You. I am unable to pull my thoughts away from myself, away from what I am feeling or not feeling.
All this in a God-stretched moment.
“Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life—
I know that it is finished."
Stop, I command myself. See truth. Christ does not have to die again. He has done it! I AM redeemed. It is not the chaos that is driving joy away; it is my fear that when I sink into moodiness, into selfishness, that I have stepped out of redemption. But that can never be. He finished it.
“I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no pow'r, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
…this I know with all my heart,
His wounds have paid my ransom."
Paid, accomplished, finished—in a transaction that is outside the scope of time. It is not undone when I grow grumpy yet again, not taken back when I fail or sink into petty thoughts. I look up at the Christ figure on the cross. Through that finished work, I tell myself, I am redeemed. My sin does not for one single moment make that untrue. It is present and ongoing, without conditions, without resting at all on me. I can have joy IN my grumpiness. It is not limited only to when I am feeling peaceful and good but is a reality even when I am fully aware of my own sinful nature.
I feel my husband's hands on my shoulders. They have been there all along, but I just now sense their gentle weight.
“Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders"
He took it from me—and He abolished it. Why do I try to carry what He has already taken?
The load rolls off.
And joy resurrects.