Hearing Forgiveness

There is something to envy in Catholic, Orthodox, and “high church” tradition with absolution. If it could be separated from the whole penance thing, I think I could go along with it. I have been part of services where the pastor has pronounced a declaration of absolution. It is a powerful moment to hear the words of forgiveness spoken in the present tense.

Speaking Forgiveness

I don’t know if there is a greater facet to pastoral vocation than to say to another person “Your sins are forgiven.” Especially the first time a person, by faith, receives God’s forgiveness. We sometimes forget how hopeless and overwhelming the weight of sin is to a person. Having all the guilt and shame lifting from one’s life is beyond words to describe.

Jesus’ Mission

After the resurrection, when Jesus met the disciples behind locked doors, he joined them to his mission with the words, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (Jn 20:21) Following that statement he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Along with that act and statement he said, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Jn 21:23) Dealing with and declaring forgiveness was the one thing Jesus connected to his mission in that statement.

Our Mission

How did the Father send Jesus? When the angel came to Joseph before Jesus’ birth, he said he was to call his name Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) I don’t think there’s any argument that dealing with sin was the reason the Father sent Jesus. Is this our mission?

Certainty of Forgiveness

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book on Christian community, Life Together, wrote of the benefits of the act of hearing God’s forgiveness through the spoken words of another Christian. The context is self-deception. He asks how it is that we know we aren’t “confessing our sins to ourselves and granting ourselves absolution.” The reality of another Christian is like a manifestation of God. Bonhoeffer asked, “Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God? God gives us this certainty through our brother.”

Diluting Mission

We can’t get busy about a lot of things in Christian community. We can’t deny or dilute our main mission though. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the energy and activity we give to promoting music, food, fellowship, education, and all that. Jesus’ mission was dealing sin, though. Helping people face their sin and happily declaring forgiveness, is our mission.
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