By Paul Koch –
Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?
Let it be done for you as you believe.
In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.
These words fill my ears after I have just blurted out a shallow and rambling confession of my sins. I feel like such an idiot when I do this. I know full well that I’m a sinner. I know that I have sinned in thought, word and deed; but when I actually sit there with a brother who is ready to speak to me the forgiveness of Christ, I sound stupid. Oh I speak of sins. Just not the ones that I’m really embarrassed about, the ones no one knows. There are things I just don’t want to say, I don’t want to admit, I don’t want to hear outside of my own head.
My confession is weak and incomplete. Though I try and make a habit of actually going through the motions on a regular basis, I don’t seem to be getting much better at it. I rattle off sins that are bothering me but it all seems so clumsy and awkward. If the forgiveness spoken was in any way dependent upon the crappy confession I made, then I’m in a world of trouble.
Of course, I’ve been on the other side of confessions like this more times than I can remember. I’ve sat there awkwardly as a penitent mumbles through his confession. It’s truly a strange ritual where sometimes in tears and sometimes with a stern look on their face, they confess things that aren’t really all that interesting. People are always concerned with the “seal” of the confessional; will I really not say anything to anyone about what is confessed? But truth be told, most confessions are like my own: weak and shallow. Even if I was going to tell someone else, there isn’t all that much to tell.
It is difficult to pull from the darkness within and cast it out into the light. And trust me, there is no more of a blinding light than speaking of them before another person. Even when we know that this person is there to speak forgiveness and is there to declare the pure Gospel of absolution, still we hesitate and fumble along like idiots. All the other gods that we cling to come into the light in our hesitation. Our fear of how we will be viewed, our love of the mask we’ve created before the world, our security in our own self-worth are all at stake when we confess our sins to another. And so, instead of laying it all out there we give little pieces, little sound bites that won’t jeopardize our own gods.
But there is something truly radical about absolution. The words of forgiveness don’t seem to give a crap about your weak idiotic confession. God’s gifts don’t work in percentages – well you confessed 43.5% of your sin so you’ve received an equal amount of grace. No! God’s mercy is an overflowing cup. On the lips of another I hear a Word that is outside my own darkness, outside my own schemes and gods. It is a Word that brings life and hope. And that Word of forgiveness embraces even my inability to rightly repent.
So the words of absolution take even my broken little confession and use it as the grounds to forgive me of even the most well-hidden and vile sins of my darkness. To hear the words, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit,” is to hear the Gospel, pure and undefiled. In that moment I again gasp for breath in the washing of Baptism as I die with my Lord and am promised life in Him.
So I will do it all over again. I will confess like an idiot only to be embraced as a child of light.