How often do you confess your sins? Some faithful among us actually go to the trouble of seeking out a confessor and spending time, intentional time, resolved to penitence in the rite of Reconciliation. There is a place in the Book of Common Prayer wherein the rite is given to us in this province of the Anglican Communion, but if you are an Episcopalian like I have been for the better part of my life, the idea of personal, sacramental confession is an alien one. It just didn't exist in the church I grew up in, and I only became familiar with the rite when I was being trained in seminary. It is still relatively uncommon for most of us. I can remember only a handful of times when the rite was required of me. Each was a powerful experience for me as a pastor and I give thanks to God for the honor and grace given me to hear, offer counsel and proffer absolution to the penitent.
Still, when was the last time you made a confession? For most of us, that time was this past Sunday (or this morning if you observe the Daily Office), when we as Church engage in a corporate confession: "We confess that we have sinned against you, in thought, word and deed/In what we have done and left undone." All of us stand before the throne of justice and before God express regret and repentance of the sins of commission and omission that we have engaged since the last moment of penitence. Still, as I prep this Sunday's sermon, that one line from the Epistle of James stands out for me. The ideal of confession is something that is relational, and it exists between members of the Church. Confession is not just for the Sunday morning assembly, or for the dark corner in the back of the church where the priest perches every Friday and Saturday afternoon for your convenience. Confession, and reconciliation, is as active a portion of the life of faith as is the visitation of the sick or the practice of prayer.
I was raised to forgive the trespasses of my neighbor, even as my trespasses are forgiven: but to CONFESS them? That is a new thing for me to take on.
Of course, I can envision the far end of the spectrum, confession could become completely overdone. On the other side, to NEVER offer confession and seek my neighbor's forgiveness errs to the other polarity. Both break down the fabric of community in Christ.
So, with James, I am beginning to see a happy and moderate medium. Confession and the reconciliation of our relationships to each other and to God are requisite to being true and honest to Christ our Lord and God.
How can that be accomplished? First, we commit to live mindfully. My actions and choices will inevitably engender suffering for myself and others. Confession means I take responsibility for that suffering. Second, and this is to James' point, when we confess our trespass to the one we wrong and experience reconciliation we are BOTH healed.
Sin, ultimately, is a breaking of relationship with the other. Sometimes that other is our neighbor as much as it is God; and in both instances the first, next step is confession, emendation of life and reconciliation with the one with whom relationship is compromised. Forgiveness heals us. I am learning that, even when the wounds are deepest. Saying, "I confess to you...." opens the door to that process and liberates the other to allow us to both take responsibility for the wrong AND to create an opening for them to clear the deck on their own resentments, angers and the sins of their own action and intent as well.