Absolution

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I continue to find the potential for powerful maturity in the liturgy–that work of the people we act out together. Some of you grew up in it but eventually left because you found it dry, dull, and simply no longer working. That’s okay. Perhaps you should have. I even recently sat under Richard Rohr’s teaching and heard him declare that when a particular spiritual practice stops having benefit, quit it and move on to something else!

We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Even our bodies adapt to individual exercise routines. Muscles that once wondered what to brace for stop responding, cease growing because they fully know what to anticipate. As any athlete understands, one must cross-train to develop well.

As a Worship Leader, this is why we implement certain liturgical things as a Church family. Used properly, it changes us (notice I said US, not OTHERS) in the ways of peace, mercy, compassion, wisdom, and justice that we long to see elsewhere.

“Confession” in the liturgy was so new to me—not the word, but the action. I heard “confess” in the five finger Restoration Movement exercise of Believe, Repent, Confess, Baptize, Live the Christian Life. But at that point, “confess” meant only declaring Jesus as Lord. No disagreement there! But confess sin? Somehow, I absorbed a message that sin/evil was something ruhl bad, avoided at all costs…and if admitted, best done in silent personal prayer time. The idea that one would be vulnerable enough to confess aloud to God or another human being didn’t’ hit my radar until I was introduced to the liturgy and the spiritual disciplines that the Church has practiced for centuries. 

Imagine practicing true confession right now. Who would you call, or Facetime, or Zoom, or invite over? In just thinking about it, what do you notice in your body? Be honest. Pause for a moment and answer that. Are there concerns about what’s at stake? What does this mean for you? How it potentially changes things…for good or bad?

There is another essential practice of the historic Church, once we confess aloud, to hear a “statement of absolution.” Churchy wording for sure, almost like a legal document, or the wording of the amendments I voted on this past week that caused me internally to say, “wait, what!? Could someone please explain this to me in plain English?” A statement of absolution: an affirmation that you are forgiven and that the relationship, the covenant is still intact. Generally speaking, this is something along the lines of Romans 8:1…” therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” It’s so important to hear. Otherwise, it’s like asking for forgiveness from someone, and they stare at you or walk away.

It has been my practice to confess aloud to a trusted friend on occasion, and that most recent occurrence was this past week. Now, if you’re thinking, “Wow, am I glad I clicked on this blog for the dirt that’s about to get spilled here,” simmer down. Sorry to disappoint you with so few details. But you’re certainly welcome to let your imagination run wild. It’s alright…because halfway through my life, I know this to be true about human beings: I’m just like you, and you’re just like me. 

So, confession happened with my friend, and then absolution happened. It wasn’t churchy, but it was beautifully liturgical. It went something like this:

My confession. 

A chuckle on the other end of the line. Let me just say here; you know you’ve got a true friend when you can confess your sin, he sort of laughs at with you, and you are completely okay with it. And then “hmmmm” and a pause.

So, friend, if you continue on that path, is there any scenario where that turns out well?

No. Probably not. I think I just needed someone to say that.

Another chuckle. And then with a lilt in his voice, this:

Dude, if you do it again, if you really screw up, even if you burn the house down, I’ll still be here; I’ll always love you.

My God. 

Absolution.

I have realized several things this past week as I’ve not been able to get those words out of my conscience:

I realized how badly I needed to hear that. 

I realized how badly I need more people like that in my life.

I realized that it’s way more believable for me to imagine Jesus saying those words to other people than to imagine him saying them to me, even though he would.

Probably most importantly, I realized I need this attitude toward my neighbor. Some neighbors make it remarkably hard for me to practice that, but it doesn’t excuse me from trying. And that may be the most critical liturgy for me, for us, to practice now more than ever.

If you’ve never said the Church’s historic Confessional Prayer, it’s right here. I invite you to say it with me. (You’re welcome to change the plural to singular if that’s more powerful for you).

Most merciful God,

we confess that we have sinned against you

in thought, word, and deed,

by what we have done,

and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

have mercy on us and forgive us;

that we may delight in your will,

and walk in your ways,

to the glory of your Name.

Amen.

Absolution.

Church, Friend, Beloved: may you today hear and receive the paraphrased Word of the Lord:

Dude (or Dudette), if you do it again, if you really screw up, even if you burn the house down, I’ll still be here; I’ll always love you.