“Sin? We’ve got an app for that!” — Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Church
I am a sinner.
And so are you.
And it’s OK.
I preached a sermon a couple weeks ago, that opened with those words. I talked about sin truly means “missing the mark” – without connotations of malice. About how we as the church have weaponized the word “sin” for nearly 2,000 years and loaded it up with guilt and shame. How we have done such a terrible job dealing with sin that we are tempted not to talk about it at all … but how we do that at our own great peril.
Because sin is real.
As Lent comes to a close, it’s a good time to look again at sin and talk about what we can do about it. And the good news is, we DO have an app for that. It’s called “Reconciliation of a Pentient” – and it is a sacramental rite of the church (found on page 447 of the Book of Common Prayer).
The sacramental rite of reconciliation isn’t a magic zap of forgiveness. It’s a process that involves several elements that work together to restore broken relationship – because broken relationship is at the heart of sin.
Amendment of Life
When I meet with someone for reconciliation of a penitent (or when I meet with someone to do it for myself), the first step is what takes most of the time. It’s a conversation – sometimes a lengthy one – where together we sort through what is sin and what is not. A lot of times there are things that we assume are sin that are just part of our humanity. For example, it’s not a sin to feel a certain way – we can’t help our feelings. I find one of the most healing parts of this sacramental rite is this process of self-examination because it usually ends up liberating us from a huge weight we have been carrying around. I find this part brings us in touch with our humanity – and that God loves us as we are – and that there is also a power in naming what is sin and what is not.
Which brings us to confession – actually naming what the sin is. Where have we “missed the mark?” What are the things for which we need forgiveness of God and/or each other? Where have we broken relationship?
Once we have named that, we can look at repentance. Repentance is how do we repair the damage that has been done? Often that will involve going to another person and asking them, but sometimes if the person is unwilling or unable to have that conversation it is a process of prayerfully figuring that one out ourselves. And then there is some damage that is irreparable … and repentance is acknowledging that, too, and still making sure we are doing all that we can to make amends.
Now that we’ve dealt with repairing the past, we look at living into the future. That’s amendment of life. How am I going to live differently so that I do my best not to “miss the mark” again? How will I change my life to show that I am truly sorry and want to live differently?
After we have gone through that – self-examination, confession, repentance and amendment of life – then we can receive God’s absolution. We receive God’s love and forgiveness that has been out there for us all along. And then it as if the sin never happened. The final lines the priest says to the penitent are “The Lord has put away all your sins. Go in peace, and pray for me, a sinner.”
When someone makes a confession to me as a priest, I tell them that once the confession is made and absolution is granted, I will never bring it up again (the only exception to this is if someone confesses that they have abused a child, in which case I am a mandatory reporter – but part of the repentance/amendment of life would be insisting that they turn themselves in and promising to walk with them through a process of healing and reconciliation), that God has truly “put away” the sin and we can move forward together.
If you haven’t met with a priest for the sacrament of reconciliation, I strongly encourage you to do so. It can be daunting and scary at first, but I have found it one of the most liberating practices of the Christian life. The tears that often flow I have found incredibly healing. The entire experience always leaves me feeling more certain of God’s infinite embrace of love.
During Holy Week, I am setting aside time every day specifically for this purpose, so if you wish to meet with me, please contact my assistant Maren Tompkins (firstname.lastname@example.org) and arrange a time.
Today’s Lenten Meditation is by , rector of All Saints Church.