Turn to page 447 in the Book of Common Prayer and you will find the beginning of a liturgy in two forms titled "The Reconciliation of a Penitent." It is likely the least used of the 5 sacramental rites in the Episcopal Church. The title matters in that it focuses the actions of penitent and confessor on a "reasonable and holy hope," a positive outcome more closely kin to grace than sin, more to resurrection than death.
There is plenty of room in our lives of faith to employ this rite, to have an appointed listener to hear the utterances of a contrite heart and then to pronounce the absolution that yearns to be spoken. Plenty of room that we instead fill with all sorts of things other than reconciliation.
I've been filling my time recently with a smug self-righteousness of a presumed prophetic indignation. I didn't mean to do that. I thought I was reprising my father's heroic stand against racism in opening up Anderson, SC's 1965 Community Thanksgiving Day service to his previously excluded African-American clergy colleagues. I was wrong.
This is not 1965 and I'm not my father. Even worse is that I lost sight of the fear and pain by which so many of us are still stunted.
Yes were are largely a privileged people. We own -- with the help of mortgages -- the homes we inhabit. Most of us have medical and life insurance policies. (I frequently forget to thank you all for my insurance. I'm sorry.) Many of us have stock portfolios and thick pensions. Most of us can come and go to any and every place in this county and not be overly scrutinized or shunned.
Still there are all sorts of sadly limiting ideas and beliefs that things are not as they should be, even for us. We know this on all sorts of levels, from private and personal to parochial and public. Sometimes we take responsibility for the difference between the way things are and the way we think things should be. Sometimes we don't and instead point at others and their faults. That's me in my indignation. It's different for each one of us but its hard not to point away from self, especially when we ourselves are pressed upon by fear, stress or sadness.
There is a better way. The Reconciliation of a Penitent is exactly the liturgy for heading that way. An important part of that heading is to make sure another human actually hears what is being said. That's the incarnational part of the sacrament, like the getting wet of baptism, or the bread breaking of communion.
There are other parts that make it work too, like the confession itself, the statement of absolution, the naming and claiming of the power of God's grace, the acknowledgment that even the confessor is a sinner in need of forgiveness, and that this moment begs a descriptive and honest specificity in naming the sin for which one is seeking correction and forgiveness. Both forms touch those points in different but equally valid ways.
One plus for me is that a deacon can hear one's confession as well as a priest. Thanks be to God, somebody can hear mine AND speak the words of absolution for me to hear. So . . . I'll be saying my confession this coming Holy Week, too.
For sure I have much for which to ask to be forgiven but also I want to be in the best place possible to speak those words of absolution that you deserve to hear in your hope for reconciliation. When I'm complimented on a sermon I hope to always say something like this, "I'm glad I didn't get in the way." I hope for the same usage in my hearing and pronouncing God's forgiveness of your sins, too.
Here's an online link in case you can't find your BCP 1979. Read through and then send me a note* if you want to schedule an hour for your hopeful reconciliation.
*To minimize the risk of spammers getting access this link will be removed at noon Holy Saturday, April 15.