Friday after Ash Wednesday, March 8, 2019
“Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins. His mercy endures for ever.”
The Litany of Penitence begins with a confession that is a bit different from what we typically experience in Rite II Eucharist, Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer. These differences are striking with respect to whom we confess:
Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints
in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault
in thought, word, and deed;
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
Most holy and merciful Father: We confess to you: The litany begins with confessing our sins to God, which follows our typical pattern for confession. From the collect that the celebrant prayed on Ash Wednesday prior to the invitation to the observance of a holy Lent, we are assured that the God to whom we confess is merciful and this mercy includes giving a three-fold gift of penitence, which includes:
- minds that recognize the disharmony caused by sin,
- hearts that feel the weight of sins and express this sorrow as lament, and
- wills that desire to repent of our sins and change our way of living.
Penitence is the gift which leads to experiences of redemption, which is “the act of God which sets us free from the power of evil, sin, and death.” (Catechism: Sin and Redemption, BCP 849). This definition of redemption is communal – we are redeemed together.
We confess … to one another: As a community of persons being redeemed together, we confess our sins to one another. Through baptism we are made members of Christ’s body, the Church. As members of the Church, we are members of each other (Romans 12:5). Our call as Christians is to grow toward maturity in Christ together (Ephesians 4). Our redemption is practiced and begins to be realized in our common life. By confessing our sins to one another, we grow into our baptismal life and the reality of the relationship we have to each other through baptism.
We confess … to the whole community of saints in heaven and on earth: Our relationships as Church span time and extend beyond the boundaries of our local worshiping community, our diocese, and our denomination. Just as we continue to live out the consequences of the sins of the saints who came before us, our sins will have consequences beyond our lifetime. Because of the extent of our relationships as members of the Body of Christ, our individual and corporate sins not only affect our individual lives, but affect our worshiping community, our diocese, our denomination, and the universal church. As we come to live into the reality of our baptism, we have the opportunity to reflect upon how our lives are interrelated.
Our baptismal life calls us out of the individuality that our culture prizes into a network of interrelated lives that extends beyond the local worshiping community. We can begin experiencing redemption through our willingness to begin the work of reconciliation that starts with being honest with each other on how we struggle against sin and seek to be restored to harmony in community.
What does experiencing the gift of penitence in community look like in your home and in the life of your worshiping community?
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. --Collect for Ash Wednesday, BCP