Posts Tagged ‘confession and forgiveness’

In the Gospels Palm Sunday begins the Week we call holy.  In John’s Gospel, the Triumphal Entry begins at 12:  12 and the events of Holy Week, all take place either in Jerusalem or close by, then fulfilled in the Resurrection and in John  ending at 21:  35.  Eleven chapters to report our Lord’s three years of public ministry and 9 chapters to cover 8 days!  The Lord was quite busy in those 8 days:

  • The Parable of the Two Sons, Matthew 21: 28-32
  • The Parable of the Tenants, Matthew 21: 33-46
  • The Parable of the Wedding Feast, Matthew 22:  1-14
  • Paying Taxes to Caesar, Matthew 22:  15-22
  • Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection, Matthew 22:  23-33
  • The Great Commandment, Matthew 22:  34-40
  • Whose Son Is the Christ?, Matthew 23: 41-46
  • The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet, John 13
  • The Doctrine of the Crucifixion, John 12: 27-36
  • The Giving of the Holy Spirit, John 14:  15-30,16: 4-15

This is not an exhaustive list.  Please note that much of the time Jesus is teaching in the Temple.   He was not condemned for His good works,  but His teaching, the doctrines He taught. This goes for the Church as well, if she is faithful to the Lord. He was crucified for the doctrine that He and the Father are equal and the Church is mocked for teaching this truth.  So many false religions, such as Islam and Mormonism likewise deny the truth of the Incarnation and the Savior of the world because of human pride that man can save himself by works of the law.  So Islam and Mormonism make up religious rules that are easier to keep than the Decalogue, but yet are hard.  In our neck of the woods, there are two Mormon ward houses, with cross-less steeples and I have seen the Temple outside of D.C, and that steeple has the angel Moroni.  This week is so crucial that all four Evangelists spend a bulk of their Gospels on reporting these seven days.  The Church, following the Word and Word made flesh, has rightly made Holy Week and Pascha (Easter) the focal point of the whole Church year.  Many Muslims want to eradicate from the face of the earth all mention of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  It is the teaching and preaching of the Cross that the Church is persecuted, not her deeds of corporate mercy.   Indeed, this connection between teaching and civil punishment is foretold in Isaiah. Indeed,  Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled:

Isaiah 50: 5-8

 The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
    he awakens my ear
    to hear as those who are taught.

The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious;
    I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
    and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
    from disgrace and spitting.

But the Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
    He who vindicates me is near.

Years ago, in the old newspaper column, “Dear Abby”, Abby had a special piece, “Forgiveness Week Cures All Ills”.  Someone had arbitrarily designated that week for forgiveness.     The true forgiveness week has already been designated by the Lord by every doctrine He taught, by every conflict He had, by every ounce of sweat and blood that poured forth from His sacred Head with grief and shame weighed down.  It must give us pause that it took the Lord only 6 days to create us and the heavens and the earth and 33 years culminating in this Week to redeem us!  Hear,pray, learn, eat and drink the Lord’s Word with His Church this Holy Week.  

Jesus, I will ponder now
On Thy holy Passion;
With Thy Spirit me endow
For such meditation.
Grant that I in love and faith
May the image cherish
Of Thy suffering, pain, and death,
That I may not perish.

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In the first centuries of the Church, after Ascension and Pentecost, when a person was reborn a Christian in the waters of Holy Baptism, she left the futile ways of her forefathers. She ceased being a pagan. She ceased being an idolater worshiping many gods and began to worship the true and living God who sent His Son into the world to save us in this world for the life of the world to come.  (1 Peter 1:17-191 Thessalonians 1:8-10;   1 Corinthians 6: 9-11) 

Worship was and is the line of demarcation between the world and the life of the world to come.  In the Orthodox Church, their liturgy begins

Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.

Crossing the border from the world as it is into world as is shall be, the Kingdom coming into the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The foretaste of the reign of God first accomplished by Him, when the People of Israel crossed the Jordan, after bondage in Egypt, and 40 years of the journey through the desert into the land of Promise:  crossing the Jordan.

At a border, there is a border check, customs.  In many countries, as our own, a visitor, or a returning citizen cannot bring in contraband, items considered dangerous to the welfare of the nation.    We have a border check in the Lutheran Church called Confession and Absolution, which begins the Divine Service. “Absolution” is from the word “absolve” and its synonym is “forgiveness”.  But I think it is important, even crucial,  to use “absolution” because His absolution is absolute, as real as the nails piercing His sinless hands and feet for your purification.

In the Old Testament, when Isaiah saw the Lord in glory, Isaiah cried out I am a man of unclean lips.  He knew he could not so stand in the Presence with such a dangerous tongue.  The Lord purified Isaiah.  (Isaiah 6: 4-8) As it was to Israel, sin is dangerous to the welfare of His Church, which is, “…a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  (1 Peter 2: 9) We lay aside the sin that so easily entangles our selves, our families, the various countries the Church dwells at the confessional border crossing.  (Hebrews 12:1-3He disentangled us not easily in His crucifixion. He frees us in His forgiveness to live as freed citizens of the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When I went in the ‘70s to Eastern Europe and the then Soviet Union, on a  trip from Concordia Senior College, as we crossed from Poland into the USSR in the dead of night, the train was stopped to change the undercarriage of the train because Poland had a different track gate.  It was a convenient time for the Soviet soldiers to come on board, with automatic weapons, to rifle through our baggage, lift up our compartments seats and look us over.

  • A pastor is no Soviet border guard!  The Lord already has found you out and does so to find you in His all-encompassing forgiveness. He found you out in His Law, from Him no secrets are hid, nothing we can hide.  We cannot bring the dearest souvenir of hell into heaven. This is why we begin with Confession and Absolution.
  • A pastor’s vocation is also to hear private confession, when the burden is great for the penitent.  A pastor’s vocation is to hear confession but not to talk at all about what he has heard.  He is not tell anyone about the confession’s content, even his wife, so that you may again live as the Lord’s freed citizen, His son or daughter.
  • When the Israelites crossed the Jordan the first thing they were commanded to do was celebrate the Passover, and we do in the once and for all Passover of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world: This is My Body, this is My Blood.  The Lord Jesus has so commanded the new Passover for the forgiveness of sins, in communion with Him and His people.

Confession and Absolution is crossing the boundary, the Jordan and it is a return to the forgiveness granted in Holy Baptism, the washing and regeneration in the Word, the Lord’s Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (St. Matthew 28:18-20).  This is why the sign of the cross is encouraged at the beginning of Confession and Absolution with the Invocation, In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, because it is in His Name we are baptized.  Further, it is encouraged that Confession and Absolution be led from the Baptismal Font.   We see this in Dr. Luther’s ordering in The Small and Large Catechisms:  his explanation of Holy Baptism is followed immediately by the doctrine of Confession and Absolution.  From The Large Catechism:

…here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance, (i.e. Confession and Absolution) as it is really nothing else than Baptism. For what else is repentance but an earnest attack upon the old man [that his lusts be restrained] and entering upon a new life? Therefore, if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism, which not only signifies such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. For therein are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong.

Almighty God, by our baptism into the death and resurrection
of your Son Jesus Christ, you turn us from the old life of sin:
Grant that we, being reborn to new life in him, may live in
righteousness and holiness all our days; through Jesus Christ
our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The sections from Luther’s Small Catechism are reproduced below from The Book of Concord website.

IV. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.


What is Baptism?–Answer.

Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

Which is that word of God?–Answer.

Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nationsbaptizing them in the name of the Fatherand of the Sonand of the Holy Ghost.


What does Baptism give or profit?–Answer.

It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are such words and promises of God? Answer.

Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.


How can water do such great things?–Answer.

It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghostwhich He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christour Saviorthatbeing justified by His gracewe should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is afaithful saying.


What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer.

It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?–Answer.

St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6We are buried with Christ by Baptism into deaththatlike as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father,even so we also should walk in newness of life.

V. Confession

How Christians should be taught to confess.

What is Confession?*

Confession embraces two parts: the one is, that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no wise doubt, but firmly believe, that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven.

What sins should we confess?

Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess those sins alone which we know and feel in our hearts.

Which are these?

Here consider your station according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, a man-servant or maid-servant; whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, slothful; whether you have grieved any one by words or deeds; whether you have stolen, neglected, or wasted aught, or done other injury.

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I think this cartoon is funny. But just think of the ad slogan, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” Answer:  anything!  Even doing good:

I think folks who make commercials know the Old Adam better than many a Christian does. Doing good to get the good I want is finally not good.  It’s all tit for tat.   I would do anything for fill-in-the-blank, and what you filled in is your god.  

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar,  and His word is not in us.         (1 John)


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Genesis 42:  8And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. 9And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them. And he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” 10They said to him, “No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food. 11We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.

In the daily Lectionary, the Old Testament lesson the Monday of the 4th Sunday in Lent  is Genesis 42: 1-34, 38.  The portion of the lection above includes my own emphasis.

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery at the age of 17, then the brothers told their Father, Jacob,  Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.   In other words: they lied.  Honest men do not lie.  Honest men do not sell their brother into slavery because of their overwhelming jealousy of him.    After a history of providence in the midst of imprisonments, beatings, accusations,  Joseph, at the age of 30,  becomes number 2 man under Pharoah and thoroughly Egyptian, yet not forgetting Whom he believed and worshiped (as did the  second Joseph, the  Step-father of our Lord). So for some 13 years Joseph’s brothers let their Father believe Joseph was dead.  How could honest men live with themselves? The brothers were guilty and yet with a straight face could say:  “We are honest men.”

 We can convince ourselves of our own goodness while conveniently forgetting the truth about ourselves and perpetuate sins venal and mortal and all with a good conscience.  The media is the almost daily parade of those who have been caught self-justifying and self-apologizing their actions.  And note how the brothers did this:  right after they state they are honest men, they say:  “Your servants have never been spies.”  So, if I never robbed a bank, then that proves I am a honest man?  Hardly.  The brothers were not spies but hardly were they honest men.  If you know the narrative:  Joseph got them in the cross hairs of God’s Law and they were saved by  God’s mercy and love alone:  they came to know that they had not been honest. The Law alone brought out the guilt so it could be forgiven.  What the brothers had done those many years before was probably  festering in their consciences’ dank and dark cellar as if it had happened yesterday,  fearing the light of day, the light of the Word.  

Pr.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew this well, the plight of the brothers of Joseph as the plight of all men:

In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person the more destructive will be the power of sin over him,  and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart.  The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass bars of iron (Ps. 107: 16).

I think the old saying is worthy of full acceptance:  confession is good for the soul.  The brothers found out the truth of what Bonhoeffer wrote.  And Joseph learned the workings of the Lord in the midst of his Lenten lands:  

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20

 Even out of the Cross, He worked so great a salvation.  

 17Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
20He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy! (Psalm 107)

3For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
   through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
   my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. 
               5I acknowledged my sin to you,

   and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
   and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32)

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Psalm 32:  1-5

1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

5I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

A Reflection: The real saying is , “confession is good for the soul”.  This is most certainly true!  But note: the Psalmist above is  stating in his prayer that lack of confession has physically affected him and so confession  is good for the body as well.

The Lord  created  us body and soul.  The connective “and” is not an additive but it is unitive.  Lutheran Theologian Rev. Hermann Sasse (17 July 1895 – 9 August 1976) pointed out the unitive nature of men, created body and soul, and then pointed out that the Lord so gave us Holy Communion, His Body and Blood because, “…souls do not eat and bodies do not believe”.  When we keep what we have done or left undone inside, “all bottled up”, and think our trespass can be forgotten by any of us, then it goes “heavy” upon us soul and body.  The Law of God, “Your hand” is heavy upon us.    The Lord who is perfect is perfect in remembrance and in forgetfulness:  For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31: 34) Psalm 32 begins with the proclamation of the blessedness of the LORD who forgives.  His forgiveness is the basis of our confession and sorrow over sin and He forgives as if for the first time! In confession, we know again that the Lord has done the heavy lifting of our transgression upon His shoulders.  He did so for all to see and all to believe in one place:   on the Cross.   In His nail-imprinted hand, His hand lifts us up forgiven.

This is Christ’s authority to the Church, the Office of the Keys to forgive the sins of all who are penitent.

For further reading, below is the pertinent excerpt from Martin Luther’s The Small Catechism:


  • What is confession?
    Answer: Confession consists of two parts. One is that
    we confess our sins. The other is that we receive
    absolution or forgiveness from the confessor as from
    God Himself, by no means doubting but firmly believing
    that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in
  • What sins should we confess?
    Answer: Before God we should acknowledge that we
    are guilty of all manner of sins, even those of which
    we are not aware, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer.
    Before the confessor, however, we should confess only
    those sins of which we have knowledge and which
    trouble us.
  • What are such sins?
    Answer: Reflect on your condition in the light of
    the Ten Commandments: whether you are a father or
    mother, a son or daughter, a master or servant;
    whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, lazy,
    ill-tempered, or quarrelsome; whether you have harmed
    anyone by word or deed; and whether you have stolen,
    neglected, or wasted anything, or done other evil.
  • Please give me a brief form of confession.
    Answer: You should say to the confessor: “Dear
    Pastor, please hear my confession and declare that my
    sins are forgiven for God’s sake.”
    “I, a poor sinner, confess before God that
    I am guilty of all sins. In particular I confess in
    your presence that, as a manservant or maidservant,
    etc., I am unfaithful to my master, for here and there
    I have not done what I was told. I have made my master
    angry, caused him to curse, neglected to do my duty,
    and caused him to suffer loss. I have also been
    immodest in word and deed. I have quarreled with my
    equals. I have grumbled and sworn at my mistress, etc.
    For all this I am sorry and pray for grace. I mean to
    do better.”
  • A master or mistress may say: “In
    particular I confess in your presence that I have not
    been faithful in training my children, servants, and
    wife to the glory of God. I have cursed. I have set a
    bad example by my immodest language and actions. I
    have injured my neighbor by speaking evil of
    him, overcharging him, giving him inferior goods and
    short measure.” Masters and mistresses should
    add whatever else they have done contrary to God’s
    commandments and to their action in life, etc.
  • If, however, anyone does not feel that his
    conscience is burdened by such or by greater sins, he
    should not worry, nor should he search for and invent
    other sins, for this would turn confession into
    torture; he should simply mention one
    or two sins of which he is aware. For example,
    “In particular I confess that I once cursed.
    On one occasion I also spoke indecently. And I
    neglected this or that,” etc. Let this
  • If you have knowledge of no sin at all (which is
    quite unlikely), you should mention none in
    particular, but receive forgiveness upon the general
    confession which you make to God in
    the presence of the confessor.
  • Then the confessor shall say: “God be
    merciful to you and strengthen your faith.
  • Again he shall say: “Do you believe that
    this forgiveness is the forgiveness of God?”
    Answer: “Yes, I do.”
  • Then he shall say: “Be it done for you as
    you have believed. According to the
    command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you your
    sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of
    the Holy Spirit. Amen. Go in
  • A confessor will know additional passages of the
    Scriptures with which to comfort and to strengthen the
    faith of those whose consciences are heavily burdened
    or who are distressed and sorely tried. This is
    intended simply as an ordinary form of confession for
    plain people.


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