For all posts thus far in the Pilgrimage Tour series, click here.
I have a confession to make: I’m bad at confessing.
Growing up, I was the kid who found pride in being as good as possible. Doing all the right things, knowing all the right answers, and making all the right choices. My identity was built around being as airtight of a human being as possible.
Until I realized that, no matter how much I fooled myself, this simply wasn’t the case.
Around 5 years ago, I started to become more aware of my own fallenness, my own inescapable brokenness. I, like Isaiah in chapter 6 of his book, came face to face with a holy God and couldn’t help but to reply, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips.”
But, even though my awareness has heightened, part of me still wants to hold on to this idea that I’ve got it all together.
That’s why confession is hard for me.
I became even more aware of this when I started attending a church that practiced weekly communal confession. There was no avoiding it. Every Sunday, I was going to have to repeat the same words that admitted just how broken I am.
So, on the third day of the Pilgrimage Tour, this was our spiritual discipline of the day: confession.
When I think about confession, I usually think about guilt. Isn’t that what most people think about? We’ve done something wrong and feel bad about it, so we get it off of our chest and then are supposed to feel a little better.
Firstly, it’s not always so clear cut and sometimes I end up feeling worse after confessing to someone. And secondly, on this trip, I learned that confession is about much more than that.
On that day, as we were traveling from Colorado Springs to Zion National Park in Utah, those in my van decided to simply share some things about our life. We got into some really deep stuff, some positive and some negative, but the gravity of the conversation just weighed in pretty heavily. It felt like confession, because we had to encounter some of the ways in which all of us were flawed and broken.
Later that night, like every night, we had some time to debrief, a time of sharing with one another. However, instead of simply sharing how God spoke to us that day, our leaders instructed us to encourage one another, pointing out positive qualities that we had seen in each other thus far.
At first, I thought that this was strange. After all, today’s discipline was confession not encouragement! However, then it struck me.
This is what confession looks like.
In the same liturgy that the church recites the confession of God’s people, it is always followed by a priest declaring this over us:
Here then the good news: all who are in Christ are a new creation! The old is gone, and the new has come. By the power of his shed blood, you are forgiven and your sins have been removed from you as far as the east is from the west.
There is never confession without absolution. There is never a reminder of our brokenness without a reminder of our goodness. There is never an admission of our sin within us without an admission of God’s image within us.
Confession isn’t about “getting something off of our chest.” It’s not even about the guilt of not being good enough. Confession is about coming to terms with our own brokenness—it’s about being honest when it comes to the reality of sin in our own life. But, it’s also about the reminder that your sin is not the end of the story.
We always live with both confession and absolution. In this time, the two are married in an intimate relationship. Though our circumstances reflect the experience of confession more now, some day the entire creation will be baptized in the absolution of sin and free of any brokenness at all.
When Jesus appears at the end of all things, he will utter these words: “Behold, I am making all things new.” This is the good news.
In the midst of the grave reality of sin, it’s the assurance that Jesus will restore (and is presently restoring) all things. This truth is what we practice in the liturgy, and this promise is what we hope for one day.
So, hear now, Lord, the confession of your people:
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 neighbors 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. Amen.