Ash Wednesday 2020
Spiritual Practices Series: Confession
This year during Lent, we are focusing on spiritual practices, taking one traditional faith practices of Christian community each week. And we’re not just going to talk about these practices, we are actually going to practice. So if you need a moment to prepare yourself for participating in this blog, let this serve as your warning. I’m going to ask you to practice confession in a couple minutes.
Did you just experience a little pang of fear when I said that? Did you do a quick moral inventory to see what you have to confess? Do you now wish you hadn’t click to read this?
Let me start by saying what God always says first: Do not be afraid. Confession is good news. Seriously. Confession is good news.
Second, let me tell you that you’re in good company if you’re afraid. The disciples too were afraid. Did you notice that in our reading today? When he told them for the second time in a few days that he was going to Jerusalem to die, they didn’t understand what he meant. AND THEY WERE AFRAID TO ASK HIM. They were afraid to confess their lack of understanding.
And when Jesus asks them later to tell what they were arguing about on the way to Capernaum, they are afraid again, so they say nothing. They were afraid to confess their petty fight. They were afraid of their teacher and friend, the one who loved them more than anyone.
Reminds me of Ollie. You all might remember he broke two bones last fall, first his foot, then his arm. The arm happened while I was in the shower, and he told me he slipped and fell on the kitchen floor. That floor is slippery, so his explanation made sense to me. But that’s not what happened.
Weeks after the break, his little sister Ceci was playing with my foam roller, laying it down like a log and trying to balance on top of it. Ollie lost his mind and yelled at her to get off of it, so she wouldn’t hurt herself. When I asked him to let me be the parent, he turned to me with a stricken face and said, “I need to tell you something” and started crying. Turns out, he’d been balancing on the foam roller when he fell and broke his arm. And because I’d told him multiple times that he shouldn’t do that, he was afraid to tell me the truth. He thought he’d be in trouble for breaking his arm.
On the one hand, I get it.It’s never easy to say that we’ve done something we knew we weren’t supposed to. Like the disciples, it’s never easy to say that we don’t get it, or that we got it wrong. But, did Ollie really think I was going to yell at him about standing on the foam roller when he was writhing in pain with a broken arm? Did the disciples think that Jesus was going to shame them for not understand his death predictions or yell at them for arguing about greatness?
Apparently so. Ollie needed to hear me say that I will never yell at him for hurting himself, that I will never intentionally add to his pain, that I love him even when he does what I tell him not to do. He needed me to release him from the guilt he carried for weeks, to remind him of who I am and who he is to me.
That’s why we need the regular practice of confession, to help us come to God despite our fear and remember how God treats us when we’ve screwed up or misunderstood God’s word.
We don’t confess because God needs to hear us say we’re sorry. I think it’s really important to say this on Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of this season where so many Christians are used to punishing themselves. As my spiritual director told me this winter when I told her how hard it is for me formulate prayers to say to God these days: “God doesn’t need your prayers.”
God doesn’t need any of our disciplines. God doesn’t need your confessions. God doesn’t need your almsgiving. God doesn’t need your dietary restrictions, your fasting from social media, your daily devotional readings. God doesn’t even need you to be here for worship today, or any day.
Spiritual disciplines are not part of some equation for sin reduction, things we give as sacrifice to appease a vengeful God. We Lutherans who preach salvation by grace alone should know better than that.
The disciplines, better called practices, are for us, beloved people. They are gifts from God and from our forebears, meant to help us remember who God really is, and who we are in God’s eyes. Spiritual practices are meant to ground us in our truest identity as beloved, as children of God, as co-workers with God in the kin-dom of heaven.
So today, we confess because we need to remember who God is, and be assured that God still sees who we are when we’re not at our best. We confess because we are desperately afraid that we are not good enough for God to love, even though God has told us otherwise again and again. When we are ashamed of ourselves, when we have done the things we didn’t want to do, when we have hurt others and ourselves, we need God to come to us and say, “I forgive you, and want you to forgive yourself. I love you, and I want you to love yourself.”
Do not be afraid, dear people. Confession is for you. It’s a gift to make you feel better, to help you let go and forgive yourself and others, to move you toward the freedom God has given you in Christ. So come and unburden yourself. Write or draw your confession on the feather below and then crumple it up*. Throw it in the trash, or burn it. Tear it into little pieces. And as it is destroyed or disappears, know that you are free. Receive the cross of ashes on your forehead (or draw a cross with your finger if you can’t get to church). Let the cross be a reminder that God has given you all you need, and neither the weight of your sin nor death itself, can take what God has given you away.
*At my church, I will be using these feathers for something creative and cool during Holy Week, so if you’d rather send yours to me, I’d love that. Send it to Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 720 South 2nd St, Mankato, MN 56001.