“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.