Kruiz edited
Christ Has Taken It Away
Tuesday of Lent 1
20 February 2018
The Lutheran Church practiced private confession and absolution fairly universally until about 1750. For example, the great Lutheran cantor, Johann Sebastian Bach, went to confession regularly in preparation to receive holy communion at St. Thomas or St. Michael Church in Leipzig. He did not consider it a burden or a tyranny upon his conscience. Nor should we.

However, confession is a burden and a tyranny upon our old Adam, who absolutely rebels against making a truthful and clear confession of sin. He will always be an enemy to this truthful speech. Therefore, we should get it out of our minds that there is no difficulty involved in making confession of our sin to another person, whether a brother or our dear pastor. Indeed, it will help us put down old Adam and trample him if we learn the discipline, which is a cross bearing, of confessing our sins out loud to another. It is humbling to form our mouths around our sin and spit it out, laying it out before a brother. It is also humbling for the one who hears the confession, because he knows that he is a sinner like the one confessing and is warned by St. Paul, "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1Co 10:12-13). Those who hear confession have been tempted just as those who confess. Those who hear confession have sinned just like those who confess. Their standpoint is not righteousness, their standpoint is the divine mercy in Christ. Their standpoint is another's holiness, not their own.

There is certainly internal coercion involved in going to private confession and absolution, because old Adam will not volunteer to do this. He will go only as a small boy goes to his bath: kicking and screaming. However, there ought never be external coercion used against the Christian by the church, so that the Christian person is driven to go to confession by some kind of law or rule. The papacy established the rule that a Christian had to go to confession at least every year; usually at Easter, to be considered a faithful Roman Catholic. Such coercion is entirely counterproductive. It misses the whole point of confession and absolution by turning into a burden that which frees Christians from burdens. The center of confession and absolution is the declaration of forgiveness of sins to the person who is burdened in their heart and troubled in their conscience because of particular sin. Absolution then frees from burdens; we must not make it one.

What then should impel the Christian to avail himself of private confession and absolution? First, are you troubled or burdened by a particular sin? If yes, then second, you should be compelled by the blessing of the holy gospel which promises forgiveness of sins in the pronouncement of absolution on the lips of a friend or a dear pastor (Jn 20:21-23). Here is the solution for sin that comes from God; it is the solution of absolution which proclaims what God has done in Christ to remove every sin by placing it on Christ. The penitent does not need to bear his sin. It need not infect his conscience. Christ has taken it away. Our confessor tells us so.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"We have always urged that confession should be voluntary and that the pope's tyranny should cease. As a result, we are now rid of his coercion and set free from the intolerable load and burden that he laid upon Christendom. As we all know from experience, there had been no rule so burdensome as the one that forced everyone to go to confession on pain of committing the most serious of mortal sins. That law also placed on consciences the heavy burden and torture of having to list all kinds of sin, so that no one was ever able to confess perfectly enough.

"The worst was that no one taught or even knew what confession might be or what help and comfort it could give. Instead, it was turned into sheer terror and a hellish torture that one had to go through even if one detested confession more than anything. These three oppressive things have now been lifted, and we have been granted the right to go to confession freely, under no pressure of coercion or fear. We are also released from the torture of needing to list all sins in detail; besides this we have the advantage of knowing how to make a beneficial use of confession for the comfort and strengthening of our consciences." 

Martin Luther, An Exhortation to Confession, 1-4
John 20:19-23

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." (ESV)
Lord Jesus, You have called on us to repent and believe in the gospel. Send the Holy Spirit to help us put down old Adam. Lead us into true repentance. Help us to form our mouths around our own sin that we might expel it. Give us faithful confessors that they might hear the afflictions of our sin and deliver to us Your unending and perfect mercy in holy absolution; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For all pastors and church musicians as they lead God's people in the season of repentance while looking forward to the Paschal feast with sincerity and truth, that they might be strengthened in all their labors

For those who are troubled in their consciences by particular sins, that they might find peace and comfort in the proclamation of divine mercy in holy absolution

For Keith Brda, who is suffering from back problems, that he might receive appropriate medical care and that he would be delivered from his pain
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Isenheim Altarpiece (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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