Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Parts of Service: Invocation, Confession and Absolution

Every service I attend begins with the words that are recited in a Christian's baptism; In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, followed by an amen which is said by all. What an appropriate way to begin. There is beyond no shadow of a doubt who we're coming into the presence of in the service, the Triune God, to receive His gifts of Word and sacraments for the strengthening of our faith and the constant reminder of the forgiveness we have in Christ. First and foremost this is the purpose of coming together for Divine Service, that we may receive all the benefits from God in order that we might serve His will diligently and worship Him correctly and the secondary reason for attending the service is to give thanks to our God who constantly preserves us in the true Christian faith. For David writes in Psalm 51:14-15 “Save me from blood guilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” Through these verses we see that in order for David to sing praises and thanksgiving to the Lord, or rather about the Lord's work, he first needs to receive God's forgiveness from his blood guilt and more than that he needs God to open his lips in order for him to declare God's praise.

So appropriately what follows the invocation is corporate confession which is recited by all. Here we confess:

Pastor:If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

Congregation:But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

These first two things that are recited are taken straight from 1John 1:8-9:

1John 1:5-10
This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word
has no place in our lives.

We see the severity of sin and the repercussions we can face if the sin isn't dealt with. Christ dealt with our sin by His death and resurrection, but we also should confess not only in our day to day lives but also in the midst of God's presence in the service where he is present for the purpose of bringing us his Word , strengthening our faith, and forgiving those sins we confess.

There is a moment of silence for the congregation to reflect on their sins of omission (things we fail to do) and sins of commission (things we do that we shouldn't) which then leads us to what is called corporate confession.

Pastor:Let us then confess our sins to God our Father.
Congregation: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. 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 neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your Holy name. Amen.

All the sins confessed here couldn't be closer to the truth. Confessing that we are sinful by nature and unclean is all over in the scripture.

Psalm 51:5
“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

Genesis 8:21
The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in His heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.”

We have certainly sinned against God in our thoughts, words, and deeds. And in all these ways which are said by the congregation. At the end you might be feeling that you haven't lived up to the expectations of God and are ashamed for the sins you've committed throughout the week, but the purpose of realizing our sin is to appreciate the grace we receive through the righteousness of the Lamb.

Romans 5:20-6:2
“The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But when sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our lord. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

In order for realization of Christ as the one who takes away the sins of the world and the reconciliation that comes from Him, we hear the words of absolution. Those words are spoken after we are raked over the coals, because of our own sin, to comfort us and assure us, though we spent the week sinning and pulling away from God's will, He forgives us and wants us to know of our forgiveness in Christ. So we are absolved through the way of God's mercy. The words of absolution are spoken by the pastor, and not just for our benefit but also for his own forgiveness of the sins He has committed. The absolving words come from John 20:19-23

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.' And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'”

In these verses there are two things we can focus on when dealing with absolution, which simply means forgiveness. The first is when Christ says “Peace be with you!” In the context of the verse he is saying this because of the disciples fear of the Jews but we see how through our fear of sin and damnation these words of Christ are a comfort because ultimately he is saying “Peace be with you, because you have confessed your sin and are forgiven.” So we no longer have to fear our sin, just as the apostles no longer had to fear the persecution of the Jews. Secondly is the authority Christ gives to the apostles which is, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” This authority is exercised through the office of the ministry. Although the words are ultimately spoken to the the apostles, we see that this authority is carried out through the office of the ministry. This isn't to say that our sins can only be forgiven by the Pastor, who is in the stead of Christ, but to show the authority of the Church to call the unrepentant sinner to forgiveness, and so the Pastor speaks these words:

Pastor: Almighty God in His mercy has
given His Son to die for you and
for His sake forgives you all your
sins. As a called and ordained
servant of Christ, and by His
authority, I therefore forgive you
all your sins in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit

Congregation: Amen

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