Saturday, December 17, 2011

Assurance of Pardon - Where in the Liturgy?

Where should the Assurance of Pardon be liturgically placed?

In most of my experience, limited as it is, the Assurance appears after the Confession of Sin, and I guess that's okay, but I'm wondering if the placement could be more appropriate if placed before the Confession.

Part of my thinking is a chicken and egg question, though I think the question in my mind is easier to solve, and has been solved for us by Jesus and in 1 John, wherein it is written, God first loved us!

As it now stands, one might assume that our confession of sin triggers God's forgiveness, or, as some might say it, and have said it, without such confession, no forgiveness is possible, driving some, as it did Martin Luther, to endless confession and maniacal self-examination.

With that in mind, perhaps the Assurance should appear first in the liturgy - in other words, we start with the love of God and the grace therein - a primordial love for creation, and through the lambs of the centuries and now the Lamb of God of Calvary, there is forgiveness, profound and pervasive, complete and without condition - though ignorance of it condemns the ignorant to life lived fearfully or despairingly, and for some, ignorance can even promote a self-willed morality that grants approval aside from the love and mercy of God (the heart and soul of various legalisms which are always suffused with arrogance - the vain belief in one's inherent ability to truly be good, often requiring a woeful avoidance of the whole story, as we leave out or whitewash the darker chapters).

So, perhaps we should begin with the love of God - the Assurance of forgiveness - that the great work of God throughout history, ever since God made sturdy clothing for Adam and Eve, has always been forgiveness, and now has reached its culminating moment in Jesus who embodies God's purpose and love in such depth and purity as to finish the work of forgiveness, and, by the Spirit, empowering his disciples to tell "the good news" to all the world and to make disciples, those who know the truth, in full humility, and can share that good news further with others, in full compassion.

We are thus invited to confession, not as some potential trigger of God's mercy, which would always remain in doubt if tied to the "quality" of the confession, always leaving room for anxiety - that, perhaps, the confession wasn't complete enough, or sins of omission were overlooked, and sins of commission forgotten, and, thus, the forgiveness of God is withheld.

If, on the other hand, we know in Christ the unrestrained love of God that has wrought forgiveness, once and for all, confession is relieved of anxiety and empowered to be honest, for we are now, in Christ, without fear of judgment, but, in fact, invite judgment, the work of the Holy Spirit, to further our growth in Christ - sometimes requiring a harsh hand upon the soul, but harsh or not, always the hand of love.

One of these Sundays, I'll locate the Assurance prior to the Confession and then make it a teaching moment.

We'll see ...