You know I’m going to do more teaching than preaching when I begin a sermon this way: Please turn in your Book of Common prayer to the Catechism, page 845. If you did not know about this section of the BCP, I highly commend it to your study. If a sermon is particularly off-base, you can always fact-check it here, or even just start reading on another topic altogether. The Catechism is the Outline of our Faith; it is what and how we believe as Episcopalians.
We’ve been talking about the Old Covenants, the Ten Commandments, the New Covenant, the Summary of the Law, and the New Commandment throughout Lent. You can read more about all of those in the Catechism – it’s all there in question and answer form for you to refer back to and study.
In this week’s readings, we have some more of the language about covenants in the reading from the prophet, Jeremiah. There’s an echo in the Psalm also. The Hebrews reading reminds us that we are ALL priests – all of us are capable of direct communication with God for prayers and supplication and confession. In our gospel reading, we get a glimpse of the level of obedience that is expected of us all as brothers and sisters of Christ.
As you all know, this is my first call as a solo priest in a parish. I have been an intern, or a deacon, or an associate before – always on staff at a large church. There are some things that haven’t occurred to me yet that I just do not know. For instance, at this time of year, in each of the churches I have served, the rector always puts a blurb in the bulletin about making appointment times available for Confessions. OF course, confession is offered all the time, but some people make it part of their Lenten discipline to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so priests often bring it to our attention during Holy Week in case we feel so moved. It did not occur to me until this last week that I have never asked how that went for each of the rectors for whom I have served. I have no idea if they had fifty people for whom to hear confession, or five, or none. I realized I did not know what I did not know! Eek. I have of course received the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a spiritual director, so I know how it goes from the side of a Penitent Person. I have also heard confessions at times other than Holy Week, usually in a less formal set-up. Mother Mo happened to call on an unrelated matter last week, and she was gracious enough to allow me to grill her for her wisdom and experience. I think I’ve got this.
So back to our Catechism – page 858. What are the two great sacraments? Baptism and Eucharist. Those are the two we believe are necessary for all persons. Now flip to page 861 and look at the list of the other five sacraments: confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent, and unction. None of these are strictly necessary for all persons. For some of us, some are very necessary, but the church leaves it up to us to discern which are ours to claim. Not everyone has to be a confirmed Episcopalian, married, ordained, completed confession or received laying on of hands for healing (or Last Rites as some call it). Even though we are all priests in the order of Melchizedek, we are not all ordained priests in the Episcopal church – so don’t run around getting in trouble with the Bishop! Conversely BECAUSE we are all priests in the order of Melchizedek, you may say your own confession at any time to God and feel forgiven – God says in the Jeremiah reading today that you will be forgiven – no ifs ands or buts. Says so right there.
So then why do we have the sacrament of the Reconciliation of a Penitent? Look at the answer: so that a person “may confess [their sins] to God in the presence of a priest, and receive the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution.” Sometimes there are things we confess over and over and are not sure of forgiveness. Sometimes we need to hear another person – someone who has received the sacrament of ordination – assure us that God has forgiven us and that God loves us. Sometimes we need to shut the door on that sin forever – not take it out and play with it ever again. Sometimes we need a penance to do to feel as though it is done and finished in our lives.
The church, and I, leave it up to you to discern if the Sacrament of Confession would be helpful in your spiritual journey. If it is something you need, please let me know and we can talk about how to go through it all. If it is something you do not feel would be helpful in your journey of faith, then do not worry about pursuing it further. Either way, please know that you are already loved beyond measure and completely forgiven by our God who is the origin and eternal pool of love and forgiveness. Amen.
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