A post by Andrew Stephens-Rennie over at Empire Remixed has got me thinking about confession. My sense is that confession is seen as something of a dirty word in our culture, conjuring up all kinds of unpleasant images of nosy priests and slavish religious rituals meant to assuage unnecessary guilt. Confession isn’t a popular concept in a self-obsessed culture suspicious of religious power and those who wield it and where we seem to almost instinctively think of ourselves as victims of the myriad forces that act upon us rather than active and willful contributors to the brokenness of our world.
But the truth is that very few of us are nothing but victims. All of us do wrong. Some of us do more wrong than others and some of our wrongs have more harmful and long-lasting consequences than others. Sometimes we do wrong unknowingly and unintentionally, other times the wrong we do is the result of long and wearisome habit. Sometimes we are actively malevolent, sometimes simply apathetic and careless. We have done wrong, we are doing wrong, and we will continue to do wrong. There are probably as many different ways of doing wrong as there are wrongdoers!
And all of us need to confess our sins. I won’t presume to speak for other churches, but I can say that corporate confession is not something that we do very often at our Sunday morning gatherings. This isn’t to say that confession isn’t a part of inter-personal relationships in our community or that prayer isn’t an important part of what we do in our corporate gatherings, but our public prayer tends to steer clear of confession.
In Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott says that the two most honest prayers she has ever prayed are:
- Help me, help me, help, me, help me!
- Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!
You could certainly do worse than this. And reflecting on how I and others have lead our church in corporate prayer, it occurs to me that we have done pretty well with these two. We regularly petition God often on behalf of our community, our city, our nation, and our world. We regularly thank God for the gift of salvation, for material blessings, for opportunities to serve, etc. We’re pretty good at asking for help and saying thank you.
But perhaps we need to add a third prayer to Lamott’s two: Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me, forgive me! Or, forgive us! Because we need forgiveness, both as individuals and as churches.
For many of us, confession is a language that has to be learned (or relearned) gradually. But all of us can start somewhere. One place might be the prayer of confession from the liturgy of the Anglican church cited by Stephens-Rennie in the post above:
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us,
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your name.
We can also start more simply. Recently, I have noticed that a friend of mine has begun to add a short line to conclude his prayers around meal times and other occasions: “… and forgive our sins, for Jesus’ sake, amen.”
Confession. For Jesus’ sake indeed.