“That one’s heavy as sin.”
A few months ago, I was picking up some used cabinets, and one of the contractors was describing the giant pantry cabinet. It had taken four of them to get it out of the old kitchen. I took the opportunity to let her know that I’m a priest, and that I know what she meant. Sin is heavy.
The Bible says it “easily entangles”, and that Jesus “bore our sins”. This stuff can weigh us down.
I’ve been thinking a lot about confession lately. It is one of the offices of the Church that carried over in the history of the Church of England from it’s day under the Roman Church, although the reformation brought about a substantial change in what we mean by it. You can find the simple liturgy for it here.
For the Anglican Church, the rite of confession is an elaboration on James 5:16 – “confess your sins to each other, that you may be healed.” I insist that you see that the result of confession is healing, not forgiveness. When we proclaim absolution, it is an affirmation in response to doubt, not a declaration of a new act of God.
The scriptures assure us that through faith, our sins are forgiven. When we believe in Jesus, God meets us with justification for a lifetime of offenses against Him and others. But we don’t realize the depth. We don’t know what it means to live in righteousness. In fact, we find ourselves unable to live perfectly holy lives. So, sin continues to entangle. It continues to distract and enslave us. Secret sin maintains a hold over us that it has no right to. Guilt and shame keep us from being bold, and they keep us fearful of being discovered.
I learned recently a nice phrase that captures Anglican thought on the practice:
All may, None must, Some should.
All May – the sacramental act of confession is open to anyone who wants to be honest about their sin. You need not be a member of the Church, nor conquer your sin before you confess them. It is always available, although St. Timothy does not have a “confessional booth” or keep regular hours, our priests are available for pastoral appointments, both scheduled and emergency, and always ready for formal confession to be part of those meetings.
None Must – Believing that sins are forgiven by God on the basis of faith, there is no requirement to confess to a priest to receive forgiveness. As believers, we are required to confess our sins to God, and we are encouraged to confess with other believers, but it need not be a priest, or through a rite of the Church.
Some Should – For some of us, we wonder – if our sin were to be discovered… would we be looked down upon, would we be shamed, would we be kicked out? Worst of all, could God forgive even this? Sometimes, we come to love our sin (but that’s another discussion for another time.) For the ones suffering this anxiety, going to the priest (who represents the person of Christ to the church), and knowing that clergy are aware of the seal of confession, this rite holds tremendous healing power. We understand that Christ forgives even this, and it soothes our weary soul and strengthens us to do better.
In confession, the priest is likely to assign some penance. But as with the whole understanding of confession, this will look vastly different from our Roman brothers. Anglican priests are likely to assign tasks that demonstrate a desire to walk in the light. Things like, “you really need to tell your wife”, or “go confess this now to the police”, or “spend a month without television”, or “meditate on 1 John” are the kind of penance we assign – because they help us do as much as possible to minimize the damage of our sin and pursue a life of holiness in the Kingdom of God. They help us love the Light.
I have found, in my own walk with the Lord, that I am among the Some that Should. It has been a freeing experience to speak with my confessor. Thanks be to God.
Sin is far less heavy when we share the load. It’s lighter when we are healed. And lightest of all when we realize that Christ has already borne it for us.
This post is part of our “Why of Worship” series – answering questions about Anglican Life and Practice
photo from murphyrobes.com
At out Maundy Thursday service this year, we had the chance to discuss a fair amount of the thought and intention that goes into our daily practice, weekly worship, and annual cycle or feasts and fasts. I attempted to answer as many questions as I could, but some stumped me, and we didn’t have time for all.
The question of cassock color stumped me. I have a general idea of who gets to where what color, but had to go looking to discover the answer to “why?”
I found this blog post from an Eastern Orthodox priest that contains a brief, but compelling instruction. http://www.stgabrielashland.org/why-do-you-wear-that-black-cassock/. He deals a little more fully with the reasons why members of some denominations wear cassocks at all times, but he also addresses the issue of why most clergy cassocks are black.
It is one of those items where practicality and symoblism mix. There are habits that we pick up as practical habits that are infused with meaning as we repeat them, and there are practices that begin with symbolic meaning that feel practical as they become habit.
Cassocks are black because they are a sign of humility and service. Historically, around the world – black has also been the cheapest color, and requires the least care as the lengthy robes will often pick up dirt when worn in the course of daily ministry. It also symbolic of death to the world, in which the clergy of the church are intended to lead the people. So, by example, symbolism, and habit (and a uniquely strong place of unity between all liturgical traditions!), the cassocks of clergy are black.
This is our dining room table. It’s old. We’re not sure exactly how old it is, because my wife’s grandmother bought it at a second-hand store when she was a newly-wed. It’s been in her family for a bit over 70 years, probably.
We really love this table. It fits our rustic style (because it’s old). But more than style, the table has nostalgia. The table isn’t the oldest, most beautiful, or most interesting piece of furniture we have. But it is special.
This table is a testimony. If you look closely, you can see where my wife pressed her pencil into her homework when she was in school. You can see where her father did the same. It was the table that her grandmother laid out a coffin as the centerpiece of her halloween haunted house. It has been the location of countless milestones and memories. Our daughter’s baptism, the signing of contracts, the place we’ve marked holidays and feasts. It is where we have had breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, with each stage of life marked by the minuscule changes that each day brings. It is a constant – a reminder that despite the fact that on any given day we may be laughing or weeping, we are part of a bigger history.
And while this is lovely, this table won’t last. Some day, it will rot, or burn, or break. Tables don’t last forever. Families, though longer lived, don’t last forever.
“Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” The apostle Paul wrote these words to the Corinthian church, explaining one piece of meaning we find in the Lord’s Table. It is a testimony and a downpayment.
Week after week (or monthly, or daily, depending on the tradition) – the family of God gathers at the table of the Lord for a meal. It is a token meal, generally only consisting of a small bite – but it connects us to a greater something. It is a reminder of the feast that lies ahead, and affirms the testimony of what has come before. For the past two millennia, our family has gathered around the table. It is a constant. It is where we have marked the milestones.
In some places and times we have celebrated, and in some we have wept. New members enter the family by birth and by faith. Young become old, children become parents, and saints go on to glory, seated at the feast table. We gather around the table in joy and in sorrow – because this table is a testimony. We who gather around it and receive from it are part of something much bigger – an eternal family and an eternal feast. Thanks be to God.
Bible Quiz – What do the Kings of Judah Asa, Jehosephat, Joash, Amaziah, Azariah, and Jotham all have in common?
They “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but the high places were not taken away”
You can find their stories in the books of the Kings (1 Kings 15; 22; 2 Kings 12;14;15).
As you read through the historical books of Israel and Judah, it is always stunning to notice that all of the reigns of these kings – all of their policies, projects, and personal lives, are often reduced to one or two sentences – about their relationship with God.
The high places were the ancient worship places. They represented the pluralism and complicated religious landscape of the ancient world. Many of them were shrines to polytheistic gods. Some of them were illegitimate altars to worship YHWH, the God of Israel. All of them represented false worship.
The Biblical evaluation of these six kings is generally good – their hearts were for true and right worship of the living God. During their reigns, the nation of Judah moved in the right direction. But they were unable or unwilling to tear down the old places of worship. They were unable or unwilling to wholly devote their nation to the worship of the God of Israel.
Until the high places were taken down – the old ways continued to be a threat.
Today is the opening of the season of Lent. This season is a time for Christians to tear down the high places – to fully devote ourselves to the worship of the one true King.
High places are not about salvation. Our hearts have been made clean through faith in Jesus and our salvation is secure. High places are about focus and temptation. They are about ensuring that our past lives stay past.
All of us hang on to control over aspects of our lives, and refuse to let God reign. We fear that we will somehow lose our identity if we give up some sin. We worry that it will be too difficult or painful to bring something into the light. We wonder if the promises of God are really true. Are the peace and joy of life in Christ really what they are made out to be? Can a life of self-control and moderation really be full of joy? And so we keep our high places – our private escapes and insurance policies that keep us half-heartedly following Christ.
But He doesn’t want your half-heart. He wants you all – without a back-up plan.
My goal for this lenten season is to tear down some of my high places (and yes – I have plenty). The Lord keeps showing me more. By choosing a fast, I exercise self-control and turn away from the worship of myself and the world. By intentional, added devotion, I turn toward the real and true worship of Jesus, and become more fully devoted to Him and the coming Kingdom.
Friends – let’s tear down our high places – for He who promised is faithful, and He desires to complete in us the beautiful work He began.
I invite you to keep a holy lent.
Ascension Lutheran Church
95 Allen Road
South Burlington, VT 05403
Sunday Service: 4:00pm