Dear Friends in Christ,
It occurred to me this past week, as I was taking communion to one of our “shut-in” members: In this communion liturgy, after an invocation, there is a form of confession and forgiveness in which I ask questions of the one who will be receiving communion and they are then to repeat the answer after me.
“Do you heartily confess that you have sinned against God and deserve his anger and punishment? Then answer ‘I do.’” “Do you repent of all your sins, committed in thought, word and deed? Then answer ‘I do’”. What would happen, I wondered, if I were to simply stop there – pack up my communion kit, put on my coat and returned to the office?
Think about what the person has just confessed. They admit that they have broken God’s commandments, that they are guilty and that, while they are sorry for the wrongs that they’ve done, they realize that they deserve God’s punishment as a result. Perhaps I should read communicants their “Miranda rights” before a confessional liturgy. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court….” How can they (or any of us, for that matter) so boldly and brazenly confess the wrongs that we’ve done before someone who stands before us “in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ”?
We can do so only because I don’t stop after asking the first two questions. I have two more to ask. “Do you believe that God, by grace, for Jesus’ sake, forgives you all your sins? Then answer, ‘I do.’” Do you believe that, in this sacrament you truly receive Christ’s body and blood, giving you God’s grace and forgiveness? Then answer, ‘I do.’”
We can confess our sins, boldly and honestly, because we have above all else heard and believed the great good news of God’s forgiving love in Jesus Christ. Helmut Thielecke has written, “The job of a disciple of Jesus is to attract and invite and to offer the gospel, that he can never speak too highly and glowingly of the peace and security of the Father’s house, whose joy he has himself been permitted to taste… Repentance and remorse always come soon enough, but joy can never come too soon. We who know Jesus Christ have only to proclaim joy.”
For the last month or two I’ve been thinking a lot about something that was shared with me by one of our members. They were speaking with one of their adult children, who was wondering out loud why, given the innumerable deficiencies of the Church, both in their own experience and throughout history, they should even bother with it. Over the next few months I’d like to try to answer that challenge.
In the meantime, I’d like to suggest that one important reason to be connected to the Church and to regularly be in worship is to hear again and again, each and every week, that joyful good news proclaimed. In spite of our unworthiness, in spite of our sin, we have forgiveness for our sins and peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We can never hear that enough – for it changes everything.