Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Power of Confession

During each Lent for the last five years or so, I have asked Father Acker at Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity for an appointment to hear my confession. I have never participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (what Catholics call Confession) at a Catholic Church, but I draw great comfort and help from the Anglican tradition of Confession.

As an evangelical for the past eighteen years, I had always heard that confession is a private thing between us and God, but of course we may seek and confess our sins to an "accountability partner," someone whom we respect and trust and who will ask after us, helping us to stay the course regarding a particular weakness, issue, or sin.

The Anglican concept of Confession seems to be a balance between the Catholic and the evangelical practices--and I always appreciate balance. :)

The first rule of Anglican Confession may be summed up this way: All may. None must. Some should. (This little rubric amuses me for some reason.) Confession is available to all, and while it is not required, some of us should definitely take advantage of the comfort and help that the formal Sacrament of Confession brings.

And Anglican Confession does not have to be given to a priest; any Christian may hear our confession as we aren't confessing to a priest but directly to God, with a trusted Christian friend (who may be a priest) hearing us and giving us counsel. 

The new Book of Common Prayer 2011 (this link should be live later this weekend) contains a section on "The Sacrament of Confession" (p. 133) and a "Form of Confession and Absolution" (p. 134), and this Form is what we used at my recent confession during Holy Week. As the "penitent," I spent time in preparation in the week before my appointed time with Father Acker, praying for God to reveal my besetting sins as well as any other specific sins I needed to confess and receive advice regarding. God gave me quite a list, of course which I jotted down in my prayer journal.

The "Sacrament of Confession" in the BCP 2011 states:
Every Christian needs to honestly recognize those actions in which we turn from God's command, not making excuse. With contrition we are to seek not only forgiveness from God, but also forgiveness from those we have wronged, in keeping with the rule of charity and making restitution as we are able.

In order to receive God's forgiveness, the Church does not require that a person confess their sins in the presence of a Priest, but only that all Christians be honestly assured in their own conscience of their duty in this matter. However, the Sacrament of Confession provides the assurance of God's grace and forgiveness, advice and counsel, and reconciliation to the unity of the Christian community.

No one should be offended by the manner chosen by another. Let all remember the rule of charity and not judge the conscience of others, seeing that there is no warrant in God's Word for doing so.

The Book of Common Prayer 2011, page 133

So the "Form of Confession and Absolution" proceeds this way:

The Penitent may ask a blessing:
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

The Priest prays:
The Lord be in your heart and on your lips, so that you may rightly and truly confess your sins: In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Penitent asks God's forgiveness of actions done or left undone:
I confess to God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, before all heaven, and before you, that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, through my own fault. And especially, I have sinned in these ways...
The Penitent briefly names the sins, taking care not to make excuse by circumstance or explanation, but simply naming the sins committed.
For these and all my other sins that I cannot now remember, I am heartily sorry, firmly purpose amendment, and humbly ask pardon of God, and ask of you penance, counsel, and absolution. I ask God to have mercy upon me and ask for your prayers on my behalf.

The Priest may give counsel and assign prayers or hymns as signs of thanksgiving for God's forgiveness.

If assured of repentance, the Priest may absolve the Penitent with the following or similar words:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive you your sins; And by his authority committed to me, I absolve you from all your sins; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Ezekiel 33.11; Mark 1.15; Matthew 16.19; Acts 20.32; Romans 6.22)

The Priest may add:
Go in peace. The Lord has put away all your sins, and pray for me, a sinner too. Amen.

James 5.16: Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

The Book of Common Prayer 2011, page 134

I always end up a soppy, red-eyed mess during Confession; Father Acker knows to have a box of tissues at the ready for me. :) Yes, I confess my sins daily (or very nearly) to God as part of the Morning and/or Evening Offices of Prayer, but as many of us know, sometimes we need a person to be "Jesus-with-skin-on" for us.

I need to hear with my own ears that God has forgiven me. I need to hear the counsel--always excellent and Spirit-led as it pierces my soul--regarding conquering my besetting sins, in my case sins of fear and pride. I need to hear the Scriptures that pertain to my weak areas. I need the encouragement that comes from unloading my sins at the foot of the Cross. And I need to hear the assurances from God's Word that I am no worse than other believers so that I can walk forward without fear.

My "penance"--which is not a form of punishment as the root word is "to think"--or, as the Anglicans call it here in the new BCP, my "sign of thanksgiving for God's forgiveness" this time is to read and meditate on Psalm 42 as an antidote to fear. And I have been doing so, although not as often as I would like. If my mind were clear enough, I would love to memorize it, but my pain medications make memorizing Scripture very difficult as my memory is quite hazy most of the time. But here in Psalm 42 from the BCP 2011 Psalter (English Standard Version):

Psalm 42
1 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation 6 and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

This is the Power of Confession: laying out our soul--sins, warts, and all--before another trusted believer, asking God for His forgiveness; taking the words of absolution into our deepest of deeps, knowing that He is indeed a God of mercy and forgiveness; receiving the grace and counsel that leads us ever closer to our Savior; and then being gifted with a specific portion of His Word to hold onto when temptation strikes again and the Enemy seeks another battle.

Confession like this is difficult for many evangelicals to grasp, and it's not easy for me to express the power and grace that I receive in the Sacrament of Confession, but I pray that some may find help and encouragement through my experiences.

In His Grace, now and always,

1 comment:

Anne said...

Susanne, this is powerful and interesting. Thank you for sharing your experience of confession.


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