Wednesday, February 13, 2008
From the Liturgy: Confession and Absolution
Psalm 130:1-4a,5-8 - trans. Gordon Jackson, The Lincoln Psalter, altered
Pastor: His thoughts are deep, but we are deep in a different kind of way—deep in the trap of our sins. So we cry out to God saying: Out of the pit we call you, Lord;
People: please, Lord, hear us
Pastor: Though our voices are faint let them reach your ears
People: and touch your heart of mercy.
Pastor: Lord, if you keep a tally of all our sins
People: then all of us are done for;
Pastor: But Lord, you like to forgive;
People: So we wait on the Lord, we wait in our soul,
Pastor: his word is our only hope;
People: We look for the Lord,
Pastor: eager as any watchman for the morning.
Pastor: You wait for the Lord, because his love for you will never run out,and because he has the power to set you free; Only he will save you from your sins, Only he has sent his son to die for you and rise again to give you new life. Your sins are forgiven in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The parts of the sermon in blue were read from the center of the Chancel, mimicking the liturgical movement during the Confession and Absolution.
It’s a lovesong for the loveless. Psalm 130 is a lovesong for the loveless and the hopeless. Confession and Absolution in worship is a lovesong for the desperate and the lonely.
“This is a lovesong for the loveless.” The Gospel is a lovesong for the loveless and the hopeless. When we confess to God, when we admit to God that we are sinners, that we are so completely the opposite of what He wants us to be, when we admit how hopeless we are when we look at ourselves, then the Gospel is a lovesong for us, a lovesong for the loveless and the hopeless.
That phrase—“lovesong for the loveless”—comes from a song by a band called the Juliana Theory. I won’t play a clip from the song, because only some of you would appreciate the hard rocking sound, but I’ll put the lyric on the screens, because we can all appreciate how the words apply to Psalm 130, Confession and Absolution, the Gospel, and Lent.
Almost always near the beginning of a worship service, Confession is where we admit that because we’re sinners, because we’re so far from God, that really we have no right to approach Him, no right to come before His presence, stand at the altar, talk to Him in prayer, no right to even think that God should do anything except strike us down dead for our sins.
In fact, a helpful way to imagine that part of the worship service is to think it’s like you’ve been kicked out of church, that you were excommunicated because of your sins during the week, and now you’re coming to God, admitting what you’ve done wrong, asking for mercy, love, and forgiveness, pleading with God to look on you with favor because of Jesus Christ. You’ve been kicked out, and now you’re begging for God to let you back in.
You’re begging God to let you back in, because it’s just so bad outside, so strange, cold, hurtful, hopeless, lonely, and desperate when you’re away from God. It’s like you’re lost in a pit, you’ve fallen into the stormy ocean depths, sinking fast. Which is where Psalm 130 starts. . .
Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications.
If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand? (NKJV)
Out of the pit we call you, Lord;
please, Lord, hear us
Though our voices are faint let them reach your ears
and touch your heart of mercy.
Lord, if you keep a tally of all our sins
then all of us are done for.
“Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.”
That’s the traditional Confession of Sins, but it’s just like Psalm 130, it’s a cry from the depths, a cry from people who know they are caught in the pit of sin, people who know that they should be struck down for their misdeeds.
“Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.” (Lutheran Service Book)
Out of the pit we call you, Lord;
please, Lord, hear us.
And He does hear us. As certain as Jesus heard the thief on the cross who said, “Lord, remember me in Your kingdom,” as certain as that, Jesus hears you when you ask Him to remember you. As sure as Jesus promising that the thief would be with Him in eternity, as sure as that, Jesus promises that you will be with Him forever.
Just like the lyrics from the Juliana Theory song, Jesus is sending out His Gospel, His lovesong for the loveless, and He says, “You can be certain I’m with you when I sing.” You can be certain that Jesus is with you when He sings, when He speaks, when He shares His Word with us, when He cries out in despair from the cross, when He declares His victory in the Resurrection, when He speaks to the Father in the eternal throne room above, you can be certain that He is with you and has made it possible for you to be with Him forever.
“You could have nothing but you’ll still have me,” the song says. You could lose everything in life, you could see how sin makes you worthless in the grand scheme of things, but you’ll still have Jesus.
That’s the great surprise, the wonderful moment, the tremendous recognition of faith, the thing that we celebrate every worship service, the turning moment, the time when hopelessness turns tail, reverses course, and becomes full-fledged hopefulness. It’s Absolution, it’s forgiveness, it’s the lovesong for the loveless.
“This is a lovesong for the loveless.”
The Gospel is a lovesong for the loveless and the hopeless.
But Lord, you like to forgive;
So we wait on the Lord, we wait in our soul,
his word is our only hope;
We look for the Lord,
eager as any watchman for the morning.
You wait for the Lord, because his love for you will never run out,
and because he has the power to set you free;
Only he will save you from your sins,
Only he has sent his son to die for you and rise again to give you new life.
Your sins are forgiven
in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
But [Lord,] there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope.
O Israel, hope in the LORD;
For with the LORD there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He shall redeem Israel
From all his iniquities. (NKJV)
“Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Lutheran Service Book)
Psalm 130 is a song written for the people to use on their way to the Temple, on their climb up the hilly road leading to the Holy City, to Jerusalem, to the Temple, on their way to worship the Lord. It’s a song to sing in preparation, admitting their sins, admitting that it is only through God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness that they should even dare approach God’s presence on that Holy Hill.
Confession works like Psalm 130. It’s the part of the service when we’re preparing to approach the Lord, we’ve come to hear His Word, we’ve come to receive His body and blood, we’ve come to talk to Him in prayer, but as we’re on the way up—so to speak, as we’re entering the sanctuary, as we’re looking towards that altar, we pause to confess, to admit, to come clean with the truth, to cry out to God from the pit of our own sins. We ask God: “Please don’t hold our sin against us; lift us up, bring us close, let us be here in Your presence.”
That’s what Lent is all about, too. We spend these weeks before Easter, pausing to think, to really take stock of our actions, stopping to realize just how much we needed Jesus to go to the cross for us—as ugly as it may sound, that we needed Jesus to be killed so that we can live. We’re walking up the hill, we’re approaching the cross, we’re walking out of the deep pit of sin, and we’re singing Psalm 130 the whole way, confessing our loveless, hopeless, desperate, lonely condition.
And whether in Psalm 130—“But with You there is forgiveness,” or in the traditional absolution—“Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you,” those words of forgiveness come as the lovesong for the loveless. It’s where Jesus promises that He will always be with you; it’s where God invites us to stay here, approach Him, talk to Him, receive His gifts, and go home confident that He will be always with us. Often you’ll see us as pastors not go up to the altar until after the absolution, symbolizing that only through the forgiveness of Jesus are we able to confidently approach the Lord.
(stepping up to the altar) And when we take that step, when we’ve said the words of Absolution, when we’re spoken the forgiveness of Jesus, then you should be able to hear a beautiful song from the Lord, a lovesong for the loveless, a melody that pierces your gloom, lifts you out of the pit, and places you in the arms of God the Father who showers His blessings on you.
I don’t know what may have brought to the depths today; I don’t know what has caused you to realize just how sinful you are; but I do know that Jesus has given you His lovesong called the Gospel.
You don’t know what will be your deep pit in the future; you don’t know what you’ll be thinking about each time you come here to worship; but you know that Jesus will be here offering you His lovesong called forgiveness.
It’s a lovesong for the loveless. Psalm 130 is a lovesong for the loveless and the hopeless. Confession and Absolution in worship is a lovesong for the desperate and the lonely. You can be certain Jesus is with you when He speaks His Word of forgiveness. You could have nothing but you’ll still have Jesus. Easter will come with the celebration of Resurrection, victory, and eternal life, and you’ll know that it is the Lord’s lovesong for you. It’s a lovesong for the loveless.