The catechism of the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer describes sin as “the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation (p. 848).” By sin we separate ourselves from our true selves and our true vocation as free and faithful members of Christ’s body, the church.
How does God’s forgiveness enter our lives?
Jesus Christ is our sole mediator. Baptism and the Eucharist are the primary sacramental means of both proclaiming and directly receiving all of the benefits of God’s love in Christ: forgiveness, healing, spiritual power and grace. We also experience God’s forgiveness in the love and forgiveness we find in our human relationships, especially within the household of the faith.
What do I have to do to be forgiven?
You don’t have to “do” anything. As soon as we acknowledge our sin, make amends where possible, and surrender anew to God’s grace, we are immediately forgiven by the saving action of Jesus Christ, accomplished once for all but made present again in sacramental celebration. There are no limits to God’s forgiveness freely given in Jesus Christ.
Why, then, confess sins to a priest in the sacrament of Reconciliation?
This encounter celebrates and makes present in the most personal and profound way the proclamation of the goodness and faithfulness of God in our life (“If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9). Further, when we have lost our way and wandered in a far country, God wishes to welcome us back, as the forgiving father ran to meet the returning son (Luke15:11-32). By making our confession to the representative of the Christian community, we not only acknowledge our reliance on God’s grace alone, given to us in Christ, but also the presence and power of the Spirit active in Christ’s body, the Church. Christ’s ministry of reconciliation lives in the members of the Church and their mutual ministry. The absolution given by the priest is the Good News of our salvation in Christ and our ‘re-membering’, our rejoining our rightful place in Christ’s body, at the eucharistic table, and in the vineyard of our common ministry of proclaiming reconciliation to each other and to the world. This sacrament offers more than forgiveness; it effects real reconciliation–a two-way encounter.
Why such a pre-occupation with sin?
The emphasis is not on the sinfulness of the sinner-though a moment of sane truth-telling is in order (cf. I John 1:8a, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…”)-but rather on experiencing anew the saving work of God in Christ, present and powerful in our lives. The Church’s primary pre-occupation is with giving praise and thanks to God for all God’s gifts: creation, call, God’s love for us, and God’s activity and presence in our lives and in our world, especially in the person of Jesus Christ.
Must Episcopalians “go to confession”?
No, but…. This is a good example of the Anglican maxim: “all may; none must.” Different from so many other aspects of our Tradition, this sacrament has the potential for restoring one who may be in trouble to wholeness. In such an instance, “all may, none must” might be expanded to “some should”. Consider embracing this sacramental encounter with the forgiving Christ when you find you have wandered far from the communion of love given freely in Christ. It might be an opportunity to meet the Risen Christ and receive the Spirit’s gifts in a unique and personal way, especially where healing and re-ordering of one’s life seems timely.
How do I “go to confession?”
The Book of Common Prayer suggests two forms (beginning on page 446). The priest will help you. Spend some time in advance reflecting upon where you have “missed the mark” (one of the literal meanings of the word “sin” in the Bible). While it has sometimes been traditional to enumerate “things done and left undone” and to be concrete about real offenses against God and neighbor, it can sometimes also be helpful to take stock of the general direction of your life: where you have been, where you are, and where you would like to be. A “laundry list” of offenses is not necessary. Acknowledge where Christ’s presence has been lacking or not welcomed in your life. Foster a desire for a renewed embrace of the Spirit’s gifts and of God’s love for you, in all your weakness and in all your strengths.
If you desire the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we invite you to contact Fr. Christopher at 516.221.2505 or via email.