The Divine Service: Confession and Absolution... Every Week?

by Kathy Strauch

Do we have to go through the confession this week? It makes me uncomfortable and I’d much rather skip it. And, why do we begin the Divine Service in this way? 

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”?—?1 John 1:8–9

We begin the Divine Service confessing that we have sinned. We confess the problem actually runs much deeper than sins we commit outwardly. We have not only sinned but we are, at the root, sinners. We are sinners because we are sinful. Outside Baptism, sin is all that defines us.

That's the reason why I would rather skip this part of the Divine Service. It reveals my Old Adam. My sinful nature would rather run than be confronted with the truth. 

God’s Law is a mirror that shows me who I really am—I am by nature sinful and unclean. I have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone. I have not loved God with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I justly deserve His present and eternal punishment. 

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, says John. The truth is that we are dead in our transgressions. The power of sin that rules over us means that we are by nature enemies of God. 

That's why, as Dr. Norman Nagel writes: “Confession is facing up to God with no fudging. Confessing is as He says it is: “You sinner.” Yes, me?—?sinner.”

God’s Divine Service gifts flow from the beginning to the end of the service. Although my Old Adam may fight against and despise it, my new nature in Christ sees confession only as a gift of faith. It is faith that hears the Word of God declaring us sinful and confesses the same. Yes, we are sinners, but more importantly, we are forgiven sinners. This is the dynamic of repentance. Sinners confessing their sin because they yearn for comforting absolution.

As the Augsburg Confession [XII:2-6] affirms: “repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors.?“

Repentance consists of two parts, confession and absolution. Just as the processional was all about Jesus, so repentance, confession and absolution, is all about Jesus. 

Confession is all about Jesus who became our sin for us. When confess, we place our sins on Christ. Our sins have been given to Christ and done away with. We no longer carry the guilt, shame, and death sin once rightly held over us. 

We are, like the Israelites, placing our sins on the One who can take that sin away. As it is written: “He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites?—?all their sins?—?and put them on the goat’s head.” (Leviticus 16:21)

 We place our sins on the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world in His death. The goat spoken of in Leviticus is a shadow of Christ. It was Christ who carried our sins to His death. 

The gifts of grace and peace from absolution flow;
The pastor’s words are Christ’s for us to trust and know,
Forgiveness that we need is granted to us there;
The Lord of mercy sends us forth in His blest care.
(The Gifts Christ Freely Gives, LSB 602)

The Divine Service begins with forgiveness. Sinners cannot enter or stand in the presence of a holy and righteous God. We do not have a God who is only holy and righteous, we have a God filled with compassion and mercy for sinners. 

Absolution is peace gifted in forgiveness. Absolution brings us life when we are dead in sin. This gift is delivered to us in the words of our pastor who speaks the words of Christ to us. The absolution are life-filled Gospel words. 

We are free to confess because we no longer bear the punishment for our sins. That punishment was placed on Jesus. He took responsibility for the wrong we have done and the good we have left undone. Jesus has freed us from working for our salvation. We are given the gift of faith to believe the words of absolution from our pastor. Because we are forgiven, we have peace to live a life of thankfulness in service to our neighbor. 

We are forgiven. It’s who we are. We are redeemed, forgiven, baptized children of our God. The absolution is a promise?—?you are forgiven for Christ’s sake.

Kathy Strauch is a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Troy, Michigan and is a graphic designer.


Created: August 31st, 2017