This week our guest blogger is The Rev. Karen Hunter, priest at Grace Episcopal Church in Nampa, Idaho http://gracenampa.episcopalidaho.org/ and at La Gracia Capilla in Caldwell, Idaho. Karen has just returned from her third trip to General Convention serving as a Deputy from The Diocese of Idaho.
“Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and
are in love and charity with your neighbors, and
intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God and
walking from henceforth in his holy ways:
draw near with faith. . .”
This bidding to confession, we are told, dates to 1548. If you grew up with the 1928 prayer book, the words are etched in your soul. Encountering them this week has been a true and wonderful gift.
For me, the most powerful words are “draw near”, so let’s start there. It is so interesting that the invitation to “draw near” originated as an actual invitation to come forward. I remember hearing those words as a child and their effect was indeed to draw me in, hold me closer. I can say without hesitation that this call and the Confession of Sin which followed, was for me, at that time, the most intimate and grace filled moment of the service. It was as if the universe stopped so God could focus solely on those who knelt before him/her. I can only imagine what a powerful moment it was when one was able to actually step forward, to literally “draw near” and kneel at the foot of the altar, the very seat of God.
To repent, of course, is to change direction, to make a new plan, to have a change of heart. It assumes regret, but oddly enough, doesn’t seem to require it. I wonder sometimes, how the Church would change, if in order to confess our sins, we were each required to submit a written plan for repenting.
This ancient bidding goes even further than that. It requires that one has already been reconciled to one’s neighbors. Having made a new plan, done the work of reconciliation required to put the matter at rest, and ready to recommit my life and its action to following Christ, I come and kneel before God and the community gathered to confess my sins and seek forgiveness. Confession in this context cannot help but be a profound and holy moment. We have come to be set right with the world, and God in God’s mercy, graciously obliges.
These days we seem to be of two minds about confession. Some of us love it because we, without much reflection or intension, get a warm fuzzy feeling when the priest pronounces absolution. We want to have confession in every possible liturgy. Some of us object entirely. I have heard endless discussions about our “innate goodness” and the “negativity” that is engendered by suggesting we might be (“from time to time”), sinful.
It is interesting to reflect, therefore, on the idea that our gratitude is directly related to our personal sense of sin; that a grateful heart, is of necessity, a penitent heart. Perhaps our general dissatisfaction with so much and so many is directly related to our inability or unwillingness to take a deep and honest look at our own hearts. How can we expect to see grace clearly if we refuse the contrast of truth in our lives? How can we ever know we are lost, if we refuse to acknowledge the path?