Bishop and Christian*, April, 2011

Lent is often considered (rightly) to be a season of repentance. It is good for us, who “think of sin but lightly/Nor suppose the evil great” to learn to “view its nature rightly” and its guilt to estimate (LSB 451:3). But Lent does not exist primarily for us to sit around thinking of our sin; we consider and meditate on our sin so that we may, as the Gradual for Lent has it, “fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (quoting Hebrews 12:2). We pray in Lent: “On my heart imprint Your image,/Blessed Jesus, King of grace,/That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures/Never may Your work erase;/Let the clear inscription be:/Jesus, crucified for me,/Is my life, my hope’s foundation,/And my glory and salvation!” (LSB 422). The work that the Holy Spirit does in exposing our sin to the full, is so that He can fix our eyes on Jesus and imprint His crucified image on our hearts.

One of the best and clearest means that God has given for this purpose is Individual Confession and Absolution. David says in Psalm 32: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (32:1-3, ESV). Nothing—not time, not ignoring it, not trying to hide it—can get rid of sin except the Absolution of the Lord, by which He delivers the forgiveness accomplished on the cross. He has given this great gift to the Church, and it is exercised for the good of His people by the pastors whom He has called into the Office of the Holy Ministry—which exists for that precise purpose: delivering the forgiveness of sins. (You can read Christ’s promises about the Absolution in Matthew 16, Matthew 18, and John 20.) So do not keep silent! Take advantage of this great gift, just as you have of His baptism and of His Supper. There is time set aside on Saturday nights at Trinity from 7-8 pm, but you may schedule time for confession and absolution at any time. You do not have to worry that I will tell anyone else; I vowed at my ordination never to do so. Why? Because you are speaking your confession into my ear, as into God’s; I am speaking His Absolution by His authority and promise. He will not reveal it, and neither will I. During Lent, I will be available at the normal time on Saturdays, but on Holy Saturday, I will be available from 2-3 pm, which would be a great way to complete your Lenten preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection. In fact, any Saturday would be great preparation for the Lord’s Day, on which we always celebrate His Resurrection as He lives among us by Word and Sacrament. You need not have committed any heinous crime (although Christ died for those, too) to receive Absolution. It is, as all of Christ’s gifts, inexhaustible, and always there for you.
Pr. Winterstein

Quote for the Month

“More than one of us would rather be devoured alive by the earth than experience the shame of having all our sinful secrets be displayed for everybody to see. This is the guilt. After all, God has seen all this all the time. Day after day his piercing eye sees even the most secret and darkest corner at the bottom vault of my soul. Remaining silent is a severe and constant pain for anyone who knows God’s presence in his life. And even so, all too many persist with their silence when it comes to those things stored away deepest in the soul. Otherwise they can ask God for forgiveness of sin in a general sense. But they dare not come to God with their shameful secret sins in fear of his judgment and his commandments. They know that it all is wrong but they feel that they won’t be able to promise any change. And they think that they do not have the strength to turn things right again. … “Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity” [Ps. 32:5]. Now the cover is torn away, everything is laid bare in the light. Just to be able at last to…call sin for what it is, all this thaws the ice in the frozen soul. And then comes God’s verdict: “And You forgave the guilt of my sin” [32:5]…. The answer to the tormenting question from your conscience, the answer to all the uncompromising demands from righteousness, God could only give by coming down to the earth, by allowing the Son to suffer and die and as a sacrifice give His life a ransom for many. God’s answer to all the rightful accusations of justice is the mystery of the atonement. … It is truly amazing that Jesus has given such power and authority in human hands. Yes, indeed it is! But as a matter of fact, it is the same unprecedented reality, as in the other sacraments: God’s powerful presence in our midst. This is one of the core truths of the entire Christian faith. Christ is still present, the Invisible One takes on visible form in the sacrament. The voice of Christ is still heard in the proclamation of the gospel and in the words of the absolution. Thus God still reaches His lost children in this world. The Exalted One comes humanly near to us.” (Bo Giertz, Christ’s Church [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2010], 133-135)

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”

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