By Grace Sears
It’s Easter morning. A woman sits alone in a Laundromat as her clothes, dark and light, whirl in the washer. She’s had words with her husband, and as she mentally rehearses that wretched quarrel, the flying clothes seem like angel wings — some dark, some white.
Once, the bells of Easter would have found her celebrating the hope of the Resurrection, her failings confessed and forgiven, her conscience clean. But she has left the Church. Her conscience still accuses her, but she no longer receives absolution. The evil and good angels of her nature swirl about, but her sense of guilt does not wash away.
That vignette comes from a poem written by a colleague a couple of decades ago. I no longer remember the title and cannot quote a single line, but the image still speaks to me of the immense blessing of weekly confession and forgiveness, and the piercing sadness of living without them. As Cranmer put it, “the remembrance of [our faults] is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable.”
Confession and absolution activate our thanksgiving, our Eucharist. We arrive at the banquet hall in need of a wash, then kneel at the Communion rail spiritually cleansed, to be welcomed by our gracious Lord and nourished at his table.
Yes, there are times when we just go through the motions, and our minds wander. I was a pretty good Christian this week, right? At least I’m not like X. … Do I need to stop at the grocery store on my way home? The soloist didn’t quite make that high note. … Yet even then, distracted, dull, or doubting, the words of faith imprint on us: “incline our hearts.” And merely being in the midst of God’s people at prayer may bring unmerited peace.
It is the wisdom of the Church year that we cannot bear too much reality. More often than not we avert our eyes from the Passion of our Lord, let alone focus on the ways, large and small, we betray him in spite of our claim to be faithful disciples. We need the season of Lent to approach confession with greater seriousness, seeking to search and amend our lives as we contemplate the human cruelty and divine pardon that met at Calvary.
Some urge that confession be restricted to Lent in future liturgies. It’s true that continual focusing on our faults, rather than on God’s abundant grace, does not make for spiritual health. Yet to omit confession would also omit the great blessing we receive through the weekly challenge to confess, forgive, and be forgiven that the classic liturgies afford.
Every Sunday, in God’s eyes we get a fresh start. Often we take it for granted, until awareness of something we have done or failed to do is “grievous unto us” and we long for relief. Then, like Bunyan’s pilgrim, we look to the Cross. Our burden falls off, our stained clothing is discarded, and we are robed afresh in Christ’s goodness.
How can we keep from singing? Alleluia!
Dr. Grace Sears is archives chair for the Order of the Daughters of the King, as well as a member of the Living Church Foundation’s board of directors. The featured image comes via Fr. James Bradley.