A Look at Liturgy: When Confession Shifts from “Me” to “We”

Confessions. Police officers interrogate suspects to try and get one. Counselors wait for the counselee to see their role in the problem and make one. Priests enter one half of the confessional booth to hear confessions of sin by individuals on the other side of the partition. Christians pray them to receive forgiveness (I John 1:9). Usually conducted in private, what happens when we confess corporately?

The Anglican church I attend allots several moments in the weekly service to conduct the Confession of Sin. In the silent portion, seated with bowed heads, the Deacon charges us, “Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.” While familiar language, there’s a twist like that of plaited hair in a braid in the “us” and “our”.

In previous experiences, corporate confession occurred silently and without direction alongside monthly or quarterly communion with the focus on the individual. The liturgy in my head was, “Let me confess my sins against God and my neighbor.” Though physically present with others, the corporate sense was lost in my private ruminations and prayers.

The Confession of Sin then continues after the silence, and we repeat together, “…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.” There’s the twist again; first it was “us” and “our”, now it’s “we”.

With this language, I am folded into a community admitting together and out loud that we made of mess a things last week. We are a motley crew admitting that none of us managed to keep the two commands Jesus named as the greatest (Mark 8:36-40). I can’t pretend I got it all right, and neither can the person next to me.  As a friend likes to say, “It’s a level playing field at the foot of the cross.” There’s comfort in that.

Next we recite, “We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.”  Along with individual sorrow and remorse over our failings, there’s a sense of shared grief. As I know the pain of having sinned, I can empathize with yours. We can mourn together as we profess a common desire to turn around and go in a different direction. 

We continue in an attitude of humility as we ask for God to “have mercy on us and forgive us.” Kyrie eleison. Here’s the crux of the confession– though we are completely undeserving of God’s forgiveness, he has promised he will be just and forgive us when we confess. Not to become better persons for our own good, but that “we may delight in [God’s] will, and walk in [God’s] ways, to the glory of [God’s] Name. Amen”

The truth of this confession wouldn’t change if “I”, “me” and “my” replaced “we”, “our” and us”, but its power and comfort would. In Protestant theology no mediator is needed to confess directly to God (I Timothy 2:5) so we usually go solo. But in doing so, we miss the richness found when brothers and sisters in Christ confess together aloud.

 


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