Thursday, March 15, 2007

What Sin?

Tonight is our parish's Lenten Reconcilliation service. Each year during Lent and Advent, two seasons of reflection and anticipation, our parish schedules a service where the community can gather together to reflect on our shortcomings, our sins, and to experience God's love and forgiveness and mercy through the sacrament of Reconcilliation. This may be the most 'talked about' sacrament of the Catholic church by those who belong to other denominations. It's often referred to as "going to confession".

I remember growing up in another Christian denomination often thinking many different things about the idea of "going to confession". 'Gee - it must be nice to just be able to do as much wrong as you want - all you have to do is go see a priest and then its all better.' (Funny, I had these thoughts about the Catholic sacrament, but I always believed that all I had to do was pray to God seeking His forgiveness, and it was all better.) I also remember thinking, 'Why do you have to confess to a priest? We can talk directly to God. And God's the one that forgives our sins. What's the deal with involving the priest in the mix?'

I've learned some about the theology of the sacrament of Reconcilliation - and I know I've got a lot more to learn. My experience in receiving this sacrament is what beckons me to return. Yes, I often spend time in prayer talking with God about my sin, asking Him for strength to overcome them, seeking His mercy. But, there's something different that takes place when I have this "conversation with God" in the confessional, aided by the Priest. One of the biggest differences is that I always come away with some tangible experience of mercy. Even when what I have to confess is nagging me, dragging me down, and the guilt it powerful... another human being, there in front of me, says, 'I understand. Isn't God wonderful to love us enough to forgive all that we've been talking about.' And, though I know God has/is already taking care of my sin, there's something powerful in hearing with human ears the words, "Your sins are forgiven."

I've been letting tonight's service wander around in my mind today. Beginning to search my conscience. I often have to remind myself that my sin really has been removed. And that, with God's grace and love and guidance, He is helping me along a path that helps heal the "sin nature" within that leads us toward sin in the first place. But sometimes, I struggle a little with lingering guilt. I was thinking about that earlier today when (you KNEW it was coming) another song that has been very powerful for me in the last six months or so came on the radio. I was at work when it played, but I'm going to go home and find some quiet time before tonights service to pray with this song.

It happened so long ago
And I cried out for mercy back then
I plead the blood of Jesus
Begged him to forgive my sin
But I still can't forget it
It just won't go away
So I wept again, "Lord wash my sin,"
But this is all He'd say

What sin, what sin?
Well - that's as far away as the east is from the west.
What sin, what sin?
It was gone the very minute you confessed,
Buried in the sea of forgetfulness.

The heaviest thing you'll carry
Is a load of guilt and shame.
You were never meant to bear them
So let them go in Jesus name.
Our God is slow to anger
Quick to forgive our sin.
So let Him put them under the blood
Don't bring them up again
Cause He'll just say

What sin, what sin?
Well - that's as far away as the east is from the west.
What sin, what sin?
It was gone the very minute you confessed,
Buried in the sea of forgetfulness.

Lord, please deliver me from my accusing memory
Nothing makes me weak this way,
Then when I hear you say
What sin?

One of the things that speaks most powerfully to me in the Sacrament of Reconcilliation, is the priest sitting before me, standing in the place of Christ - a human representation if you will of what is actually taking place when I make my confession. Yes - the priest speaks the words - but Jesus Himself looks to me with loving eyes, pierced hands, and (at least in my mind's eye) a beautiful smile on his face and says, "You don't have to carry it any more, my friend." And when my nagging mind begins its accusations, I gently hear Jesus whisper, "What sin? Oh that? Alan, it was gone the minute you confessed - separated from you as far as the east is from the west."

You know, sometimes all there is left to say is, Thank You.

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