Why do we confess our sins at the beginning of every service?
It may seem like I answered this already last week. But I want to focus on two aspects of the confession today: It’s content, and its placement. First, why are we confessing sin? If to confess means to simply declare something to be true, don’t we have more important, positive things to confess? God’s goodness and love for us? The death and resurrection of Christ? The true presence of Christ in the Sacraments? The Christian church confesses it’s sin for one reason only: So that we can confess God’s free and full forgiveness, for Jesus’ sake. Even in the creeds, you find sin is only mentioned as the subject of forgiveness: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” It is God’s kindness, his grace and mercy, that lead us to repentance, and NOT his law, wrath, and condemnation. You can NOT scare somebody into the kingdom of God. Be wary when you hear preaching against sin without promise of forgiveness.
So why do we confess sin at the beginning of the worship service? The Divine Service (traditional Lutheran order of worship) is a mini-drama of the Christian life. It illustrates our spiritual pilgrimage as believers. The Christian life begins at Baptism, where the triune name of God is place on us with water. Our worship begins with the same Name. Lutherans view confession as a return to Baptism; just as Baptism cleanses us of sin, so God’s Word of forgiveness given to us returns us to the truth that we are clean in God’s sight, eternally forgiven as His children. Luther said, in the first of his ninety-five thesis: “It is the will of God that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” We don’t just repent when we become Christians, we must continue to walk in it. It is necessary for repentance that we admit the truth about ourselves so that we can receive the truth about what God has done for us. This is the first step of faith in the Christian’s life, immediately following Baptism, and it is the lens through which the rest of the Christian life must be viewed: we are on a constant journey of forsaking sin and embracing grace, leading us out of darkness into His eternal light. The Christian life continues from here by receiving God’s Word with faith, and celebrating His meal with thanksgiving, which we will see as we examine why on earth we do the rest of our strange rituals.