Reflections: Wednesday of the 17th Week after Trinity

Today’s Reading: Small Catechism: Confession

Daily Lectionary: Deuteronomy 11:1-25; Matthew 12:1-21

What is Confession? Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. (Small Catechism: Confession)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Your pastor has probably been confronted by a visitor once or twice who was deeply offended and disturbed by the public Confession and Absolution. “Who are you to forgive sins? God alone forgives sins!”

Funny enough, no one ever protests when I marry people. No one ever says, “Who are you to marry them? Only God can make them one flesh!” Marriage and Absolution are not that different from each other, if you really think about it.

God alone joins together a man and a woman. God alone forgives sins. God works through society to marry couples. You aren’t married until you give the state your marriage license. Likewise, God works through the Church to forgive sinners. See John 20:22-23, if you need proof of that. Of course, a particular person—an agent of the state—needs to pronounce a couple married. Likewise, a particular person—an agent of the Church—must pronounce people forgiven. When I say, “I pronounce you man and wife,” I am acting as an agent of the state and speaking for God. Likewise, when I absolve people, I act as the public servant of the Church and speak for God.

When you confess your sins to your pastor, he doesn’t give you his forgiveness. He gives you God’s forgiveness! He acts as God’s mouth. He can do that, because Jesus died for the sins of the world, and then the risen Jesus gave the Church the Keys—the authority to forgive sins in His stead—and the Church appointed your pastor to wield the Keys for the Church. If Jesus authorizes pastors to speak for Him, then they can speak for Him, and you should believe what they say. These are not their words. They are His words. 

I wish that everyone who heard the Absolution would receive it with joy. It truly is a precious gift. You get to hear the Lord’s message for you—a message of free, unconditional forgiveness. There is no penance, no restitution; just mercy ringing in the ears. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

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, st.3)

-Pastor Alexander Lange is pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Albany, Oregon.

Audio Reflections Speaker: Rev. Duane Bamsch

Study Christ’s words on the cross to see how you can show more Christlike grace in your life. Perfect for group or individual study, each chapter has a Q&A at the end, and the back of the book includes a leader guide. Available now from Concordia Publishing House.