If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.~ John 20:23
Dear People of God,
Here we have Christ’s admonition to forgive and to retain sins. As Lutherans, we have the tradition of putting Confession and Absolution at the beginning of practically every service. It is called “Corporate” Confession and Absolution. It differs from “Individual” Confession and Absolution primarily in that the whole congregation confesses its sins together.
Confession means to honestly, humbly, and truly admit that we are sinners with nothing righteous in ourselves. Absolution refers to the forgiveness that God offers through the minister or another Christian. Most churches don’t have Confession and Absolution as part of their service and if they do most don’t put it at the beginning of their service. Some would object to the whole practice because “confessing one’s sins” is viewed as a downer and our culture only likes what it perceives to be “positive” messaging. We do Corporate Confession and Absolution because we are not afraid to face reality that we are sinners in need of being saved.
The benefit of doing this “corporate” Confession and Absolution is that we admit as a congregation that we are imperfect persons. Not only that, but also, we do this because we believe that God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ is for everyone. Some churches don’t do a corporate confession and absolution because they believe that Jesus only died for some. We believe Jesus died for all.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is done for the purpose of the forgiveness of sin. The new covenant that God has established is done by the “blood of his own Son” (Acts 20:28). And we are rescued through the “joyful exchange.” That is, that Christ in his suffering, on the cross, and in his burial had taken on our sin, our darkness, our failings, our despair, and made it his own. This is so much so that it no longer belongs to us. And then, on the other hand, Christ gives us his righteousness, his light, his grace, his joy, so much so that what was his now becomes our very own.
Christ extends this message to us through the Word proclaimed—that is, the forgiveness of sins. For we are justified by grace, through faith, for the sake of Christ, apart from works. And so we, as believers in Christ, have also been trusted with this message of reconciliation. God has entrusted his “keys” to forgive sins and retain sins to all baptized Christians.
The corporate Confession and Absolution is at the beginning of a service because God is in the business of unshackling sinners from their chains. And because this forgiveness pronounced by human lips is God’s Word—we have true comfort and certainty that it is indeed God’s forgiveness. And, wherever this Word is there is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Peace and joy,
Pastor Levi Powers
Mount of Olives Lutheran Church