If I Led a Church: Confession, Absolution & Eucharist

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My wife and I have a long running collection of ideas for a restaurant if we were ever crazy enough to open one. Most of the ideas come from our time spent together in Europe which probably makes many of our ideas untenable in the United States. One example is not making it the waiter’s responsibility to check-in with a table every 15-30 minutes. We enjoyed the freedom to enjoy our meals without the constant “How you doin?” from our waiter/waitress. One of the things on our menu would be chocolate con churros, which is a small cup of thick flavorful chocolate (sometimes flavored) served with small churros to dip into the chocolate.

Similarly, as an aspiring pastor, I have developed a collection of ideas for what I would do if I was ever in the position of leading and directing a church. Most of these ideas come from the various churches I have visited and elements of services I have found enjoyable. I completely understand that this is a bit presumptuous as there’s a lot that goes into the character of a church service beyond the whims of a pastor, but these things are fun to think about from time to time. So, this will be the first in an irregular series of posts that I will be sharing as the inspiration hits.

One of my first ideas comes from the most unique service I had the pleasure of attending. It was at an Armenian Orthodox service at St. James Armenian Apostolic Church in Sacramento. I was taking a class on global Christianity at Fuller Seminary and one of our assignments was to attend a church of a different tradition. Our professor even encouraged us to attend a church service that would be performed in a different language. Basically, he wanted us to feel as lost as possible.

Feeling up to the challenge and thanks to some direction of a friend who attends that church, I walked through the doors one Sunday morning. The time I spent there was one of the most unique worship experiences I had ever been to. Upon arrival, there was only one other person in attendance and the priest had just begun the service. That’s right, the priest started doing his thing with only two people in the room. As the service progressed, and it was pretty long, the room slowly filled up and a choir even started to form. By the end of the service (I’d say about 2 hours), the sanctuary was practically full and a decent choir had developed. It was obvious that punctuality wasn’t that important and worship progressed whether you were there or not. I think there is a good illustration there, but that’s not what really struck me.

The one element of the service which was uniquely burned into my theological brain was the time of silent confession followed by a pronouncement of absolution (forgiveness of sins) before the Eucharist was served. Now, this might not seem that special to anyone more familiar with high church liturgies, but having been raised in an evangelical church this part almost brought me to my knees. Even though I had understood very little in the service, I was blown away by the imagery of absolution and forgiveness being offered to sins confessed which then brings us to eat at the common Eucharist table. It did not take long before I realized the whole trajectory of the service was headed to this point.

Worship followed by confession followed by absolution leads us to the table of thanksgiving for the forgiveness of our sins.

For those unfamiliar with the term, Eucharist comes from the Greek word meaning “to give thanks” which is also used to describe the Lord’s Supper. Paul uses it in his instructions to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:24, “After giving thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.'” So, this is also why I we can also refer to Communion and the Lord’s Supper as the table of thanksgiving. It is where we give thanks for the forgiveness of sins, for Christ’s broken body and his blood poured out for many.

If I led a church, whenever we celebrated the Eucharist (which, honestly, would probably be weekly) I would lead the people gathered in a time of quiet confession of sins. Then, pronounce absolution/forgiveness of those sins through Christ. Then, offer the invitation to the Eucharist table.

Aside from the beautiful example that process follows, it also provides the opportunity and invitation for those to take the bread and wine who might not have felt welcome previously. It opens the doors for the Eucharist table to be inclusive rather than exclusive. The doors for confession and absolution are flung wide open for everyone to walk through. There, everyone gathered has the opportunity to find their seat at the table of forgiveness where together we offer thanks for the forgiveness of our sins and our restored relationships.

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