August 29, 2021- Fr. J. Devin Rodgers
Confession and Absolution
I left my apartment with plenty of time to make it to my 8 AM class. I set out across Oxford on foot. It wasn’t quite yet sunrise, the street lamps were still on, and the sun was just beginning to light the brick streets. I had a pit stop to make.
I turned right off of High Street and began walking the few blocks down to Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
I arrived at the church, walked through the memorial garden and found my way to the chapel, which was open twenty four hours a day.
I was ready to do morning prayer before my first class.
Back then I was a Rite I morning pray-er.
Let us humbly confess our sins unto Almighty God.
Silence may be kept
“Oh Lord here we Go.”
I began counting my sins. Mondays’ lists are always hard.
- I didn’t properly cite that quote in that paper because I was being lazy.
- I made off color jokes and swore.
- I attended a band party after the football game (this sin needed a sublist)
- I was not eating healthy, (all you can eat pizza and soft serve)
- I was not paying attention in wind ensemble rehearsal and was instead checking out that attractive saxophonist who sat a row ahead of me.
Better stop there.
Then came the confession. I was a Rite – 1 er because of this confession. As my friend Alan said when he discovered the Episcopal Church. “Where else do you get to use these fun English words?”
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
maker of all things, judge of all men:
We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins
which we from time to time most grievously have committed,
by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty,
provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.
I paid a lot of attention this confession. I bewailed, bemoaned and beseeched God to not be angry with me.
The absolution that followed wasn’t quite as interesting, nor poetic, I also wasn’t a priest, so I glossed through it, making the sign of the cross.
I plowed through the rest of Morning Prayer, slammed the prayer book closed, thus ending my Monday morning ritual.
I left the chapel. That confession didn’t make much impact on me.
I walked through Miami’s arch, past the old, towering trees.
I thought to myself, “Ugh Monday mornings! I hate Mondays. Meh! At least I get to sit behind that saxophonist in band today.”
Confession already forgotten.
For a religion that talks so much about sin, we don’t get much beyond the tit for tat, quid pro quo understanding of confession absolution.
The Christian message often goes like this. We do wrong things, when we acknowledge those wrong things we confess them and are assured that God forgives us.
Rinse (baptism) repeat.
This is only scratching the surface of sin and confession and absolution.
Confession is not about counting our sins, and numerating the times we offended God’s divine majesty.
As much as we may bewail, and we should bewail when we do things wrong, the divine Majesty is not sitting in Heaven with a large feather quill making tally marks each time we opt for all you can eat pizza and soft serve instead of a salad.
God, although probably not pleased that I didn’t give due credit to an author, isn’t ready to stoke the fires of Hell because of my incapacity to properly footnote in APA style.
The external things we do, our wrongs, and those tally lists that we may come up with are indicators of a much larger, much deeper reality. One that infinite confessions, absolutions or sin lists could rectify.
For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.
This is Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when they approached Jesus after numerating the sins of his followers. “Some of them are eating with unclean hands.”
Our actions, our misgivings, our numerated sins stem from a much deeper, reality, that we must accept.
Human nature. Human nature is this. We are separated and alienated from God by the mere fact that despite being born good, and because of the gift of free will, we have zero capability of fully living into and embodying the love that God created us for.
St. Augustine described this simply as pride that alienates us from God.
Today in our modern talks of spirituality and even psychology we would describe this simply as ego.
We are incapable of living as fully enlightened, fully loved, fully cherished children of God.
Confession is about helping us recognize our brokenness so that we might view the world through the eyes of Christ and experience a change of heart. Confession and absolution lead to transformation.
What do I mean seeing through the eyes of Christ.
First, we recognize that God is love and therefore sees Creation only through love.
If love is the standard by which God views us and all of creation, harming one another, harming ourselves, objectifying and misusing others and creation itself does in fact displease God.
It hurts God, and yes even causes indignation. The Rite I language does an excellent job describing this.
However, as much as I love the poetic language of our old lituriges, and admire the poetic language. The absolution that follows the poetic and dramatic language doesn’t quite do it for me. While it’s accurate, it’s not nearly as inspiring and flowery.
The Almighty and merciful Lord grant you (us) absolution and remission of all your sins, true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and consolation of his Holy Spirit. Amen.
Why all the dramatic imagery in the confession and not in the absolution?
I’m not sure, as I’m not a liturgist, but it comes back to God once again being love and responding in love.
If we are incapable of looking into the eyes of another, or looking within ourselves and seeing the Holy One’s presence in, over, through and soaking all of creation, we need an example of what holy living looks and acts like.
We need the perfect human example to show us how to move beyond pride, beyond our ego, beyond the evil propensities of every human heart and rediscover our original goodness.
It is with this original goodness rediscovered, through following and example of Jesus, that we are able to love, able and mindfully observe our behaviors and align them with the mind of Christ.
It can only point us to one place.
The cross points us to a love that no amount of evil, no amount of brokenness, nothing that is “out of whack in the human heart” can defeat.
The absolution to human sin is an Incarnate God who can see beyond the human precepts, ordinances and rules and find the law of love that governs all of creation.
Setting our egos and pride aside. We are made for loving God, we are made to love one another. We are made for love.
We might think of it another way. Life is one long eternal quest to be brought close to God in love.
As a lover seeking a beloved. If you’ve ever been in love you will recognize the deep longing and desire for the one you are separated from. It’s a longing full of passion, full of connection, full of desire.
This is how God feels about us…all the time.
How might our understanding of sin change if we used this poetic approach.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.”
Embedded within the tradition of our elders, within our worship, and in fact within the very fabric of creation is this truth.
Acknowledge, bewail, bemoan. Count, confess and learn from your wrongs, but don’t get stuck there. You are loved.
Arise, set your sins aside, look through the eyes of Christ and come away. Our winter is past, and we will certainly find the one who seeks us if we are willing to search.
This is where true amendment of life – true living. True Love- is to be found.