“The Lord be in your heart and upon your lips that you may truly and humbly confess your sins: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Oh no. I have to say something. This is the part where I say something. This is the part where I have to make words come out of my mouth. He is waiting for me, sitting in the rocking chair in the small prayer room. Oh, no. Why did I promise to do this? What do I even have to confess? What’s this for, anyway?
“I confess to Almighty God, to his Church, and to you, that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word and deed, in things done and left undone; especially _______.”
That’s all we are given in the small red book. Only that thin frame, those few words. What am I going to say? How do you begin to tell the God who already knows everything you’ve done and everything you’ve left undone anything? Why does He want me to do this? I mean, what have I done that’s that bad, really?
The priest waits, time left outside the door. It’s only us and the rocking chairs and the cross hanging on the wall. I have to say something. I reach a hand out for my journal, clear my throat. I flip a few pages over, wondering if this was a terribly foolish idea.
“I have been jealous.” That’s the first one, and the words slip out like water from a pitcher, spilling over the room, over the sanctified silence. I have been angry at God, and resentful. I have been… Words pool around my hands as I talk to the ground, then to the ceiling, close my eyes and leave the journal pages unread. I catch my breath a few minutes later, look back at the cross hanging on the wall, bow my head again.
“For these and all other sins which I cannot now remember, I am truly sorry. I pray God to have mercy on me.”
The sacrament of confession is not popular. I see why, now. We are so used to giving justifications for things. We were so mad that night because… we lied to that person because… it wasn’t really that bad. We hide behind these carefully sculpted excuses, reasons, our logic turned in to defend our hearts from the truth.
In confession there isn’t any space for those rationalizations. It isn’t about the great reasons you have for everything you do; it’s laying your life in front of God and whispering that most of it has been mess and much of it has been sin and all of it needs His love. In all that silence, the choir singing scales behind me, I pool my words, my life, my faults, at the feet of Christ. And I admit, for the first time in a long time, that I need Jesus to put away my sins.
In the Anglican church (and in most liturgical traditions) we say that the sacraments are an visible sign of an invisible grace. They aren’t magic, wish-fulfilling, emotionally-satisfying, problem-solving rituals. They are the heartbeat of the people of God who are saved by grace. They are reminders, bells that ring out, signposts on the road, lighthouses amid the tossing sea.
The sacraments don’t save us. But in every gesture, every word, every silent meditation, every blank space, they remind us of the One who did.
I don’t go to confession, I realize as we near the end of the Rite of the Penitent, because I believe it will make all things right with God. I don’t go because it has special favor in the Kingdom. I don’t go because good Christians do it. I don’t go because it “works.”
I go to meet again the Son of Man who has already done the work for me. I go to hear Jesus say that already He has put my sin as far away as East is from West. I go because in the steady words and the sign of the cross, I mark in my heart His promise:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
And I scuff my heels on the floor and wipe a tear or two from eyes at this marvelous grace poured out in old words and new buildings, in strangers who are pilgrims together, in heads bowed and fingertips bent in prayer.
“The Lord has put away all your sins.” He says, strong and clear.
Thanks be to God.