Ever seen a United Methodist Church with a confessional?
A friend of mine served one for many years. The donor who paid for the new sanctuary wished to honor her heritage from the Roman Catholic Church, and asked that a confessional be included in the new building, just off the narthex. And so it was, Protestantized a bit, to accommodate confession’s non-sacramental status among Wesleyans.
We’re in Lent, a penitential season when confession ought to be in every worship service, followed, of course, by the Word of Grace. Modern folk often ask why confession is necessary, since God, with an able staff of research assistants – think Heavenly Host – already has our sins recorded in His database. We’re telling God nothing He doesn’t already know, goes the modern refrain, so why confess?
What we’re telling God in confession is that we have understood the power of naming.
When Moses turns aside to see the flaming flora and is tasked to bring Pharaoh some challenging news, he asks God for The Name. “What is your name?” Jesus asks the demon who has afflicted the man from Gerasa. “Please tell me your name,” Jacob the wise says to the angelic wrestler who has troubled his dreams. “At the name of Jesus,” Paul writes in Philippians, “every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth . . .” In naming there is power. It’s in the Bible, again and again.
Naming our sins in confession gives us power over them. It is not nebulous “stuff” in the ether that has dulled our spiritual senses and created a rift between God and us. It is our addiction to pornography, money, political power, symbols of status, the mythology of Wall Street, the prophet du jour on the self-help shelf at Barnes & Noble, our dismissal of the poor or even [add your cherished sin here]. Declining the invitation of naming empowers the demons. Confession scares the hell out of them – proper theology there, of course - and makes room for the Kingdom of God in us.
My friend with the confessional was pastorally sensitive, so crafted the liturgy used in that space with great care. No one who came there doubted the confidentiality of that place, or the power of the Word of Grace that was spoken after confession, “In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”
Let it be so throughout Lent, and in all our worship.
Leadership Education at Duke Divinity