Be assured: You are forgiven
I was eleven years old, and I was certain it was all over. I was going to hell.
In confirmation class that evening our teacher had been explaining how important it was for us not to take Holy Communion until we were ready – which at the very least meant waiting until we were confirmed.
I raised my hand. “What if someone’s mom gave them a piece of her communion bread, before they were confirmed?”
This was before the “I’m asking for a friend” memes were going around (OK, it was before any internet memes), and apparently my teacher missed the concern behind the “hypothetical” question. She told me that the person who had eaten holy bread out of turn would be condemned.
I was the only one who knew: that person was me.
And so there I was, lying in my bed, trying to make sense of a life that would lead inevitably to an eternity of torture. I ended up scrolling through radio stations, trying to distract myself from this terror. I landed on a Christian station, and these words flowed from the speaker:
Then one night I remembered [God’s] love for me
And down that dusty road ahead I could see
It was the only time
It was the only time I ever saw him run
He ran to me, he took me in his arms,
He held my head to his chest, said “My son’s come home again,”
Lifted my face, wiped the tears from my eyes,
With forgiveness in his voice he said: “Son, do you know I still love you?”
[“When God Ran,” Phillips, Craig and Dean*]
That message drowned out the bad news my teacher had given me. It silenced the belief that I was condemned forever. Through the words of the song, the Holy Spirit whispered to me: “The truth is that God loves you and accepts you” and helped me to believe it.
Sometimes we need to hear the words “I still love you,” and “Your sins are forgiven.” We need to hear, “Abide in peace. The Lord has put away all your sins.” It’s kind of like when I go home and tell my spouse: “I did this silly thing today. But that’s not going to make all my coworkers hate me forever, right?” It’s even more like when I ask my spouse to tell me he loves me – again (especially after I’ve messed up).
We need someone else to remind us of God’s grace and to help us believe that it is true for us. We need that other voice to drown out the messages of the world that tell us over and over again that we are never okay; we need it to drown out our own doubt and guilt.
This is why Martin Luther fought to keep the practice of private confession. He wrote:
Moreover, we must have many absolutions, so that we may strengthen our timid consciences and despairing hearts against the devil and against God. Therefore, no man shall forbid the confession nor keep or draw anyone away from it. And if anyone is wrestling with his sins and wants to be rid of them and desires a sure word on the matter, let him go and confess to another in secret, and accept what he says to him as if God himself had spoken it through the mouth of this person. However, one who has a strong, firm faith that his sins are forgiven may let this confession go and confess to God alone. But how many have such a strong faith? Therefore, as I have said, I will not let this private confession be taken from me. But I will not have anybody forced to it, but left to each one’s free will.–Martin Luther, Sermon, March 16, 1522
For this reason Pastor Jim and I are beginning to offer set hours of private confession. As Pastor Jim has written:
“..it can be a blessing to share our burden with a pastor who has publicly pledged to never share what is confessed to them. What’s more, the pastor can speak God’s forgiveness to you about that very situation. We leave this conversation of confession and forgiveness assured that God’s forgiveness is even for us. Even in this situation.”
If you are interested in the ritual of private confession and forgiveness, you are always welcome to make an appointment with Pastor Jim or me (see links below). Starting this week we will also hold a weekly time for drop-in private confession: Sundays from 8 to 9 p.m. and Wednesdays from 9 to 10 p.m. in the baptistry of the Chapel of the Resurrection (right before the Candlelight and Celebrate! services).
Oct. 19, 2022
*“When God Ran” lyrics copyright 1985 Curb Word Music (Admin. by WC Music Corp.) Used with permission under CCLI Lic. No. 153728.
Rev. Katherine Museus Dabay
Rev. James A. Wetzstein
- Katherine Museus
- Ash Wednesday Stories
- Good Soil
- War in Israel
- God Who Sees
- God’s Ridiculous Ways
- Lives Rooted in Rest.
- “In Thy Light” May Be More About Love than Knowledge
- Be assured: You are forgiven
- Being called to sacrifice
- Creation + God’s Law
- Does this world matter to God?
- Fire on the Mountain
- Lessons from Our Lady of Guadalupe
- Little things
- Pulled in two directions
- Questions to ask at the end of the year
- Reflecting on the contrast
- What Do You Want?
- When our loved ones die