A General Confession

I grew up in the Episcopal Church, but in college began attending churches of other denominations. Recently I’ve been looking at the liturgy again and have gained a new appreciation for many of the prayers. This one is the General (i.e., congregational) Confession from the communion service. Although I’m quoting from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the wording has remained substantially unchanged since 1549 when it was written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for the Church of England’s first protestant prayer book.

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer reminds me that true repentance means seeing my sins for what they are: serious offenses against a holy God. I should be grieved and burdened over them, yet too often I treat my little rebellions casually. Repentance also requires throwing myself on God’s mercy, because forgiveness can only be found in Christ. And finally, repentance involves trusting God to produce in me what only He can produce: a radically new life that pleases and honors Him.

Shortly after this prayer, the liturgy includes these scriptures:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV)

…if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation (atoning sacrifice that turns away God’s wrath) for our sins… (1 John 2:1-2, NASB)

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