In the Christian tradition, Lent is known as a season of preparation, discipline and reconciliation. We face our mortality and the course corrections we need. We exercise self-discipline so we will gain the freedom to change. And we seek to reconcile ourselves to ourselves, to God and to others. One practice for doing this is the sacrament of reconciliation.
A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. It is an action imbued with a spiritual reality. Not all Christians recognize the same sacraments. The two sacraments Jesus instituted during his life are baptism for the forgiveness of sins and communion for re-calling Christ. Some Protestant denominations, Methodist and Presbyterian for example, recognize only these two as sacraments. Baptists practice baptism and communion as outward expressions of faith but they do not believe they confer divine grace as sacraments. Catholics, Anglicans, and some Orthodox believers, by contrast, recognize these and additional sacraments: confirmation, ordination, marriage, confession and unction.
The sacrament of reconciliation entails naming one’s sins. It involves counsel with the person hearing the confession in order to clarify wrongdoing and to assess faith and remorse. When administered by a priest, the rite concludes with absolution—complete forgiveness and remission of the sins confessed—pronounced by the priest on behalf of God through the power vested in the priest by Jesus Christ for this specific purpose. When given by a lay person, the rite concludes with an assurance of pardon.
To focus exclusively on forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation, however, is to miss a larger point and the point of Jesus’ life. Jesus came not only to forgive but also to show us a new way to relate to God (new Covenant) and to each other (kingdom of God on earth). The point is relationship and a fresh start on life.
Obstacles on the way towards newness of life take shapes as varied as humankind itself, and this blog will explore ways to overcome some of them during Lent. Many obstacles boil down to fear. Some of us fear intimacy or the vulnerability interwoven with it. Some of us resist the very relationship for which Christians believe we were created and that Jesus was sent to reclaim. That resistance transfuses all our relationships. It limits our ability to have intimacy with others and, indeed, even with self.
The sacrament of reconciliation is about confessing those obstacles in the way of our relationship with God, being freed from them and, most importantly, starting anew. The sacrament is a celebration. Although the remembrance of our wrong turns can be painful, reconciliation doesn’t end there. It is followed by forgiveness and returning to God. That returning is cause for great rejoicing. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)
Join the conversation. Will you make room for God’s creative power to collaborate on your re-creation and renewal?
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