If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1.8-9
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) is a particularly rich blessing that Our Lord Jesus Christ has gifted to His Church. As the priest professes during the words of absolution, Our Lord Jesus Christ “Has left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him” (BCP 448). This he did after he rose from the dead, when he breathed on his disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20.22-23).
We may rightly ask, “What makes a priest so special that he can absolve sins?” The answer is in truth, nothing! It is the gift of the Holy Spirit exercised through the office of the priesthood through which the power of God’s life-giving grace of absolution flows.
The uncomfortable notion of confessing our sins in the presence of another human being points precisely to the reality and therefore importance of this act! The great German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his book Life Together, “Sin demands to have a man by himself.” It is only the light of day that can dispel the darkness of sin. Only as sin remains burrowed deep within our souls can it continue its’ work of destruction. It is for this reason that everything within us resists the call to confess our sins to another. Bonhoeffer posits, “Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother?” The answer is that it frankly seems less “real.”
The reality of God’s presence meets us in the material signs of each sacrament. In the case of Reconciliation, that outward and visible sign is the presence of another human being in the priest who is present. Not only does confessing our sins to another person fill us with the humility of true repentance, but the audible words of absolution offered shatter and dispel the darkness of sin within us in a way that is unmistakably . . . real!
Clergy are available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation Saturdays from 4:00 – 5:00 pm in the Chapel, during Lent. Learn more about this Sacrament!
This article was written by Fr. Doran Stambaugh.