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Confession Again? Why it’s Part of Our Life Together.

September 15, 2014

Our Gospel readings each of the past two Sundays have come from Matthew 18 (15-20 and 21-35), per the Revised Common Lectionary. The readings center on forgiveness and reconciliation. Not surprisingly, they also have quite a bit to do with confessing one’s sins. This has led to some interesting sidebar conversations in the Bible study I lead each Tuesday in preparation for Sunday worship. Boiled down, there seem to be two basic questions. First, if God always forgives, why do we need to confess? Or, perhaps more to the point, why do we need to confess to another human being or to the gathered church on Sunday morning? This leads to the second question: Isn’t starting worship with confession a bit of a drag? Why aren’t we celebrating?

Good questions, these, and much grist for the mill.

So it was with some joy that I serendipitously finished up a rereading of Dietrich Bonheoffer’s Life Together this morning and read this passage:

“Confession is not a law; rather, it is an offer of divine help for the sinner. It is possible that by God’s grace a person may break through to assurance, new life, the cross and community without benefit of confession to another believer. It is certainly possible that a person may never come to know what it means to doubt one’s own forgiveness and question one’s own confession sin, that one may be given everything in one’s solitary confession in the presence of God. We have spoken here for those for whom the Christian life was unthinkable without confession to one another. In The Large Catechism [Luther] said, ‘Therefore when I urge you to go to confession, I am urging you be a Christian.’ The divine offer that is made to us in the form of confession to one another should be shown to all those who, despite all their searching and struggling, cannot find the great joy of community, the cross, the new life and assurance. Confession stands in the realm of the freedom of the Christian. But who could, without suffering harm, turn down that help which God considered it necessary to offer” (DB Works, Volume 5, p. 114).

With Bonhoeffer, I can imagine there being folks who can pull this off on their own, in their interior life of prayer. Like Bonhoeffer, I am not this sort of Christian. That’s not good or bad. It just is. And because this is how it is for me and, I imagine, for many, many others, public confession is of great importance. It brings me back to the assurance that God’s promises in the cross of Christ are for me. Starting worship in this way is therefore anything but a downer. It is simply descriptive. I confess my sin and then, just has promised, God forgives it on account of Christ. And I imagine that even if many of us are going through the motions any given Sunday, there are some who are profoundly experience the release that only God’s absolution can bring. The books are cleared once more, allowing us to enter into worship with the weightlessness of grace.

From → Odds and Ends

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