I didn’t know I was going to private Confession the first time I went. It just sort of happened. I was in confirmation, had just recited the entire Catechism quite confidently to my pastor, and then cheerily said, “Sure,” when he asked if I would like to have a go at private Confession myself.
Those weren’t his words. I don’t actually remember how he offered it to me. But from everything I’d read, it didn’t seem so bad, and I like a good challenge.
I headed into the sanctuary. He went off to his office to put on his vestments.
I knelt at the rail and started reading through the Christian Questions with Their Answers.
Do you believe that you are a sinner?
Yes, I believe it. I am a sinner.
How do you know this?
From the Ten Commandments, which I have not kept.
Are you sorry for your sins?
Yes, I am sorry that I have sinned against God.
Suddenly I wasn’t so sure I liked this idea after all.
Your pastor wants to hear your confession. Really. He does. And not because he wants to chortle in his chair, mentally high-fiving himself while thinking, “I KNEW it! I KNEW she lied about that!”
He wants to hear your confession because he wants you to to be forgiven, to know that Christ’s forgiveness is meant specifically for you.
He wants your conscience to be at rest and your soul to be calmed.
He wants you to know for yourself that Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb were for the precise purpose of saving you from all the ridiculous things you do that rattle around in your head all day.
He wants you to hear Christ’s words–real and tangible–in your own ears: “I forgive you. Go in peace.”
Pastor sat in a chair behind the Communion rail. The church was completely silent. I’m pretty sure I started to sweat. Suddenly, stuff was getting real.
I blundered my way through the rite with him, tripping over words because I was nervous and reading too quickly.
Then we got to the part I somehow already knew I was dreading: “What troubles me particularly is that . . .”
It was quiet again. I didn’t know where to start. Suddenly there were too many things to name and too many I couldn’t remember, and none were being formulated into a coherent sentence in my head.
He didn’t say anything. He didn’t prompt me or gloss over anything. He just sat quietly, looking at his hymnal.
Finally, I had something to say. I don’t remember how I articulated it, but I do remember what I confessed: that I was a bad daughter and a bad sister, and worse still, that there were times when I didn’t think I was bad at all.
The thought of private Confession and Absolution is terrifying. Maybe it’s because we’ve heard too many horror stories of pre-Reformation enumeration of sins or because we’re too proud or because we are perfectly content with hearing that we are forgiven in a corporate setting in the Divine Service on Sunday.
Maybe it’s that we’ve never thought of it or we’ve never been offered it or we didn’t even know it existed.
The good news is that we’re not alone. The better news is that we are free to go to private Confession. The best news is that we get to hear, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
I survived that first private Confession. I even lived to go to a handful more after that.
I don’t go routinely.
I want to.
Because private Confession and Absolution firmed up the very thing I confessed: that I didn’t actually think I was all that bad.
I remember asking my pastor if a person could ever hear too much Gospel, because–until that moment–I didn’t feel all that much remorse over my sin, and I certainly never spent sleepless nights tossing and turning in bed over it.
But Confession shoved all that aside. Kneeling there, I felt shame and disgust. I was embarrassed for the way I’d behaved and the things I’d said. I was acutely aware–in my 14-year-old way–that I needed to hear the Gospel. I wasn’t leaving church without it.
I needed Absolution. I desired to hear Christ’s forgiveness pronounced for and on me: forgiveness for being a bad sister, a bad daughter, and for thinking what we have all thought: that we’re really not that bad.
Confession shows us that we are, in fact, really, really bad.
But Absolution reminds us that Christ is perfect.
And beyond that, His perfect, sinless, bad-less life is ours, thanks to Baptism.
So, crack open your LSB. Read through page 292. Consider your sin. But then think more on your Savior.
Therefore my hope is in the Lord And not in mine own merit; It rests upon His faithful Word To them of contrite spirit That He is merciful and just; This is my comfort and my trust. His help I wait with patience. (LSB 607:3)
Private Confession may terrify, but Absolution will not.
Because our Lord’s forgiveness, spoken through your pastor’s voice, is real.
It is tangible.
And it is all for you.