There is something so sacredly beautiful in the announcement of forgiveness. Just three words alone, "You are forgiven" can unbind a burdened conscience, restore a broken relationship, and free a troubled soul.
As my pastor says, “Forgiveness is the very air we breathe.”
Without forgiveness all we have is guilt and shame. Without forgiveness we cannot approach those we have hurt. Without forgiveness we dare not take one step forward toward the Throne of Grace.
How do we come by this forgiveness that is so freely promised?
Forgiveness always comes on the lips of another.
We need to be told that we are forgiven. We need to be reminded that the blood of Christ has removed all guilt and shame. We need to hear the good news from outside of ourselves in order to break through the lies so we will believe it.
There was a time not too long ago that I did not understand my need to hear absolution from the lips of another. In fact, I thought the pastor at my kids’ Lutheran school was absurd (and maybe even a heretic) when he would announce that he forgives our sins in the name of Christ.
Excuse me? He forgives my sins? The very sins that I have committed against the Father and others? This guy is telling me that he has the authority to proclaim forgiveness over me? Hold on! He didn’t know what I had done. Wasn’t I to go to God about this? Didn’t the reformation cut out the middleman?
Having come from a faith that made the Christian walk so much about me and what I was doing for God, this confession and absolution deal made me awfully uncomfortable. I didn’t think anyone else should be butting into my relationship with God. If I needed forgiveness I’d ask him myself, damn it!
I’m glad to say that things changed for me in the absolution department but not without heartache. Several years ago I had a friend commit suicide. If you have ever had someone close to you take their own life then I do not have to explain to you the guilt and the questions that come with such tragedy. Prior to her death I had purposefully pulled away from the friendship. I had done some unkind things in order to avoid her, in order to not be hurt again. I had killed the relationship. So yeah…I had a lot of guilt.
The week of her death was met with me gasping for a breath of forgiveness. I knew that God had forgiven me but what about my friend? It was too late to repair the brokenness between us. It was overwhelming.
After days of agony I woke one morning with the word “absolution” on my mind. I couldn’t shake it. I suddenly understood why the pastor stood in front of the church and absolved us. I needed the freedom that forgiveness brings but I didn’t know how to find it. I needed to hear it from someone else. I knew that my own pastor would talk to me but I also knew it would be more of a conversation about me going to God and me trying harder to believe that I am forgiven, both good things in their own right but not what I needed to hear.
Knowing that the formal act of confession and absolution is practiced in liturgical churches I called my Episcopalian priest friend. I was hesitant but a mutual friend assured me that he would be happy to help.
Over the phone and thousands of miles away I confessed my sin to someone else's pastor. He read into the phone words of absolution, words of freedom to my burdened soul. He assured me that my sin against my friend had died along with her, that just as God remembers it no more, she also remembered it no more.
Freedom had come on the lips of another.
I am now a member of a Lutheran church (although I am not very Lutheran) for the very reason of absolution and confession. Every week as I confess my sin along with my family and my community words of forgiveness are spoken back to me. I am declared forgiven by another. I breathe in deep.
Every day we need to hear the good news. Read it, listen to it, claw our way through until we find that voice that will speak it to us. And in turn we can be that voice that speaks forgiveness into the lives of those around us.
Let the words on our lips proclaim the freeing truth, “ In Christ, all is forgiven.”