Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 2

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)

Let’s see. Now that God has invited us into his house and come down to meet with us, what should we talk about? Would this be a good time to pick a bone with him, to let him know how unhappy we are with the way that he has run the world or treated us? That might be a bit presumptuous. Well then, maybe we could start with a cry for help, for the rescue of our pension fund, for some magic potion that will cure our pain wracked bodies, for a miracle cure to solve the problem of living in a family, for rescue from a tyrannical employer and disagreeable neighbors and co-workers. What should we start with?

And here comes a jolting reality check, something that brings us up short and puts everything back into proper perspective: What we start with is the only thing that really matters in time and in eternity. All things else are important in their place, but they all fade into insignificance until we encounter God on this one all important matter:


Our sin is the one great thing that matters. Luther said it in the very first of the 95 Theses: When our Lord Jesus Christ says ‘Repent!’ he means that the entire life of the Christian should be one of repentance!

But I don’t want to repent! I certainly don’t want to confess! After all, compared to so many that I know, I’m not really all that bad. And considering the kind of parents I had, the sorts of horrible temptations to which I am subject in the world, the marvel is that I am as good as I am. Where I have gone astray, it either really wasn’t all that bad, or it wasn’t all my fault.

One of the hardest things in all the world to say is, I’m sorry. The only thing harder is to really mean it. The whole of our nature, the opinio legis, resists confession. The world laughs at it and the devil throws every possible obstacle in the way to prevent our repentance and our meaning it when we say the words.

And so what does the Liturgy do? Does it soften the blow and make it easy? Well, yes, in one way it does. For it begins with words of seduction. It lures us. It entices us. Consider carefully each line, each phrase:

Beloved in the Lord: Didn’t you see the cross when you came into his house? The cross tells you both how terrible sin is — your sin especially; but it also and even more importantly declares how eager God is to resolve the problem of your sin, the sin that separates you from him. You are his beloved; you can confess anything to the Lord who knows it all already and better than you do, and who nevertheless calls you his beloved!

Let us draw near to God our Father: No need to hold back, to cower and cringe. He isn’t going to hit you or strike you down. He isn’t going to say: You did what?! And that after all the good I’ve done for you and all the times I’ve forgiven you in the past. No, not that! For he is the God who knew us before we were born, knew us in eternity. And knowing us he has chosen to become our Father. Such a God invites us to come and to come again to his house and deal with the one thing that gets in the way of that relationship.

Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins. Before all the world we wear a mask. No one really knows us or perfectly understands us. Nor, truth to tell, do we want anyone to know us perfectly. We all have secrets that we share with no one. We all wonder what people, what our spouse or our children, would think of us if they really knew it all. But before God there is no point in hiding behind a mask. More than that, there is every reason to be completely honest with him, to strip away the mask, to tell it all, yes, to come to him with a true heart.

Asking him in the name our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness. We may well beg. In our minds eye we may see ourselves prostrate on the floor before his cross. Disgust and self loathing may fill us and that with good reason. But we have not come to this loving Father alone. Oh no, never that! We come in the name of our dear Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Savior. He is the Anointed One. He is the sin-bearer. He is the Atonement. He is the Sacrifice for sinners slain. Yes, he has already won the forgiveness for which we plead. The Father will not refuse that Son. The Father will not turn aside his sacrifice, his full payment.

Therefore, do not be afraid. Run as the prodigal son to confession, to the open arms of the Father, holding fast the cross of his beloved Son. Triumph over the stubborn flesh and the laughing world and the arrogant devil and confess it all.

And so we do it; lured, enticed, seduced by an implicit promise, we strip away the mask behind which we hide from the world, yes and often from self as well. We pour out from the poisoned well of our soul the dreadful reality:

Holy and merciful Father – I do not expect you to change who you are as the all holy one who cannot just ignore sin or wink at it; rather I abandon myself on the equal truth that you cannot and do not want to change who you are, the merciful Father. I know that in you the attributes which we distinguish from one another are all one. I know from your invitation and from the cross above the altar that in Christ they meet and find perfect resolution and satisfaction. Therefore, holy and merciful Father –

I confess that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions. Notice Father, dear Father, I confess first what I am, and only after that what I have done. For I am rotten to the core. I have nothing in my nature that is clean. It is all leprous. It is by nature capable of nothing but sin. Nor have I been shy in proving it. See my thoughts, words and actions! There is not a one of them that is perfect, not a one done out of perfect love for you and gratitude to you for all you are to me.

I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good. There is original sin which totally corrupts my nature. I would neither know about it nor confess it, were it not for the conviction worked in me by the Holy Spirit in the law. That ignorance is doubly perverse, since I have so abundantly given evidence of my total depravity by a life full of actual sin. There are sins of commission, sins that I knew were sins, but I did them anyway. And equally beyond counting are the sins of omission, sins I most often don’t even recognize as sin. There is all the good that I could have done, the attention to your Word and to my prayers, the little acts of love to those around me, — ah, it would take me all day to recount them if I only knew them all.

For this I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity. It’s no use comparing myself to Hitler or to Stalin or to some murderer or rapist. To the extent that I was capable of evil, I have done evil. The cup of my iniquity is filled to overflowing. I have no excuse. I have no merit to offer of my own. All I can do is admit that I deserve to go to hell a thousand times over in each day of my life. Especially I call to mind how I have deserved that since I was last here in your house.

I am truly sorry for my sins — as needful as that is that I be truly sorry, I know that my sorrow atones for not one single sin; I even know that I can never be sorry enough. But still they press me sore like a weight that is too heavy for me. Beneath their dread load -

And trusting in my Savior Jesus Christ, I pray: Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. Father, dear Father, you called me beloved when you invited me to confess. And so I, a sinner, trust in my Savior, your only begotten Son, and clinging to him I pray: Take pity on me in the gutter of my guilt, covered with my shame, corrupted from top to bottom with my sin.

1 comment:

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

This is good, true and inspiring. Thank you for giving this entire message!

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