“Somewhere else in The Elder Statesman, Lord Claverton observes that no one confesses where there is no hope of forgiveness.” – Capon
It was one of those mornings. You know, the one with three kids, two of whom are dragging their feet to get ready for the walk to school. My begging and pleading was getting old and so was their concurrent whining. As I watched my seven-year-old struggle to tie his shoe and listened to my eldest whimper about his itchy scarf, the damn broke: “Damn it!”
I squatted down, grabbed the shoelaces and the foot attached to them and growled, “You’re seven, and you don’t know how to tie your shoes?!” I looked up at my eldest who was still expressing discomfort. “It can’t be itchy! It’s fleece for crying out loud!” I looked at my husband and ordered, “Open the garage door!” I was already in full swing; why not drag him down, too? The garage door opened, and my sons and I stomped out of the garage and began the walk to school.
This won’t come as a shock when I say that things at the beginning of that walk were bad. No one spoke. There was none of the typical happy-go-lucky chatter about frozen ponds, moon phases, or what if the whole entire world was made of jello? There was only the crunch of snow below our feet. We all kept 100 paces away from each other.
The whole way to school I was replaying the events that led us here. THEY made ME angry. Clearly it’s their fault…clearly…clearly? At every street crossing, I’d stop to make sure we were still—somewhat—together, as much as three angry individuals can be. As I waited for them to catch up a little bit, I’d watch them…my sons. And each time, as I stopped and turned and waited and watched, some small portion of the hardness of my heart would soften. I hate being angry…I hate being angry at them…my sons.
Finally, in the last leg of our journey, I stopped, turned, and grabbed my younger son who was closest to me. I grabbed him and hugged him. “Stop!” he ordered, his voice somewhat muffled by my jacket, scarf, sweatshirt combination. I didn’t stop; I hugged tighter. He tried pushing away; I hugged tighter. Then I spoke: “I hate being mad at you…I love you so much!” He stopped fighting the hug and gave in, hugging me back as tight as I was hugging him. Then, suddenly, he let go a little bit and looked up at me, his interrogative blue eyes piercing my soul. “I’m sorry I made you mad,” he said. “Will you forgive me?”
I didn’t ask for a confession; I was the one who felt guilty. But my son’s immediate response to my “I love you!” was “Will you forgive me?” And I don’t find this weird. It wasn’t anger that produced the request for forgiveness, it was love. Because the law doesn’t create the safe place for admitting fault and error; it sends the hearers running for the hills and bushes, looking for a place to hide and to fuel their deep seated anger and resentment. But to hear “I love you” creates that much needed safe place for confession, for admission of guilt and error and fault. The Law kills, yes, but it doesn’t (and can’t) create this safe place; it brings to death, but doesn’t give the dead the voice to confess. Only the Gospel can create that safe place, only the unconditional love of God for us expressed and manifested in His son, our savior, Jesus Christ—through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It’s the proclamation of the Gospel that brings to life and gives the hearer the place and the voice to confess.
In the Anglican/Episcopalian liturgical tradition, the confession falls later in the service. It falls after hymns, collects, readings, the sermon, the confession of faith by recitation of the creed, and the prayers of the people; all of this makes sense to me, and maybe it’s why I remain Episcopalian. The confession falls after hearing (repeatedly) the final word, which is the Gospel (and if done rightly, that word follows the first word of the Law); the confession of the people falls after hearing what Christ has done for us out of pure, unyielding, never-stopping, never-ending, love for us. To hear how much you are loved and to what extent this God will go and has gone for you solicits, draws forth, and gives us the voice for our confession of our fault and error toward this God.
My son’s “I’m sorry…will you forgive me?” was a statement cloaked as a question; that statement? I love you, too.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. – 1 John 4:13-19