Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Gift of Corporate Confession

One of the most incredible parts of the Anglican liturgy, the one that swells my heart with His Grace, with His Mercy, is the corporate prayer of confession before Communion. On Friday mornings we gather in the tiny space of Victoria Chapel which Father Acker built onto the end of his garage for my family so we could continue worshiping on weekdays when the congregation gave up their beautiful church building and started worshiping at Alpine Elementary School. In the chapel there is an altar, a single long wooden pew, and a chair for Father. We can barely fit the four kids and myself in the pew; at present, only the younger two boys accompany me. But when we all fall to our knees during the prayers of corporate confession, it gets a bit crowded. Usually Jonathan kneels to my right, Benjamin to my left, and Father Acker to B's left. The boys repeat the prayer from memory while Father and I keep our prayer books open in our hands, just in case we lose our place.

The words are beautiful, worthy of prayer to our King of kings and Lord of lords. First Father calls us to this prayer of confession; while he prays this call to prayer, the boys and I slip off the pew and onto our knees on the linoleum floor:

YE who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.
Then he joins us in kneeling on the floor beside Benjamin, and together we all pray aloud in unison this prayer of confession to our Lord Christ:

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, 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. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
At the close of this prayer of confession, Father gets to his feet while we remain kneeling, and he pronounces this assurance of our forgiveness, these words I hunger to hear, making the sign of the cross over our bent heads:

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I know God forgives me whenever I ask Him, but somehow I need to hear that He truly does through a human voice. Sometimes we talk about needing "God with skin on" -- people in our lives who hug us and demonstrate Christ's love to us in tangible ways. For the same reason, I also feel an overwhelming need for "God with voice" -- hearing that He truly forgives me with my very own ears makes it tangible to me, real to me, in a way that my fallen self so desperately needs.

As we pull ourselves back into the pew (this can take me a little while, even with the help of my cane), the liturgy proceeds through "comfortable words" that continue to assure us of God's forgiveness. I take comfort in His Holy Word as Father Acker speaks it aloud to us:

Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all who truly turn to him.

"COME unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. " St. Matt. xi. 28.
"So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." St. John iii. 16.

Hear also what Saint Paul saith.
"This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." 1 Tim. i. 15.

Hear also what Saint John saith.
"If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the Propitiation for our sins." 1 St. John ii. 1, 2.

Then the liturgy proceeds to Holy Communion, for which we are now perfectly prepared for in confessing our sins to our Lord God.

Some people may object to this mode of corporate confession, stating that reading a rote prayer does not constitute a true "heart" confession. My response is that every time I read aloud these familiar words, the Spirit directs my mind to particular sins I have committed throughout my week, and I silently confess them to Him while my mouth is saying the written prayer. It's a difficult experience to explain, but I know that I am confessing with all of my heart and that God values my heart confession and forgives me for my sin absolutely and completely. I always arise from my knees feeling considerably lighter of soul as the sins that have plagued me during the week are lifted from my shoulders to His. My response to His forgiveness is gratitude -- gratitude and a love for Him that grows ever more deeply into my soul, entwining itself around my heart and bathing me in His Presence, both now and forevermore.



Deborah said...

That's beautiful Susanne! I can't understand the mindset that says "prayers which have been written by others have no meaning to the one praying them." The same people have no problem hearing their spouses and children say "I love you" time and time again without ever tiring of it. As you said, "Your heart is truly praying the prayer and therefore it isn't rote."

Susanne Barrett said...

Unfortunately, Deborah, the belief that a written prayer, especially those prayed aloud, is "less worthy" than a "regular" improvised prayer is extremely common in evangelical church circles. I thought it myself until I discovered the beauty of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.


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