I love the confession of sins. It gets me focused for Sunday worship. At St. Stephen's we start each service with either a Confession and Forgiveness dialog, or a Thanksgiving for Baptism dialog. The two are not unrelated. The Thanksgiving for Baptism focuses on baptism, the gift of life-sustaining water. The Confession and Forgiveness acknowledges the baptism that sustains us, but it focuses on "dying to sin and being made alive in Christ." (ELCA worship formation resource.)
I don't dislike the thanksgiving for baptism, but I love the confession, particularly when we use a version that mirrors the one from my childhood. I can put down the bulletin, not have to blindly read words, but say the prayer from my heart:
Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.
We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.
Forgive us, renew us, and lead us,
so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your holy name.
What always stands out for me in this statement is that it’s not just my actions that are sinful, but perhaps more importantly, my inactions that are sinful. For me it’s a call to action.
Tonight we observe the start of Lent at Ash Wednesday worship. We will gather around the font in the sanctuary and be reminded that "we are called to a discipline that contends against evil and resists whatever lead us away from love of God and neighbor. [You are invited], therefore, to the discipline of Lent - self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love -- strengthened by the gifts of word and sacrament."
What we are asked to explore during Lent, we acknowledge during the Easter Vigil, as we affirm our baptism and hear the words:
Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
to live among God's faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
This is our action plan as Christians. We know that we will fall short, but we also know that God always gives us a second chance. (It is called Confession AND Forgiveness.
God, who is rich in mercy, loved us even when we were dead in sin.
and made us alive together with Christ.
By grace you have been saved.
In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.
Almighty God strengthen you with power through the Holy Spirit,
That Christ may live in your hearts through faith.
- Ann Warner
Tonight St. Stephen’s will observe Ash Wednesday with a pot-luck dinner at 6:15 followed by Ash Wednesday worship. Throughout Lent, there will be a light supper at 6:15 followed by Vespers at 7:15.