Lutheran worship follows the basic progression of Western catholic liturgy. There is the Entrance Rite, Word, and Meal. These three movements comprise the Liturgy.
Each of these large movements are made up of smaller pieces, like a symphony. The Entrance Rite, for example, contains an invocation, supplication and praise, ending in a concluding prayer which captures the worship theme of the day (Prayer of the Day).
The Entrance Rite focuses our attention and draws us into the presence of God. It typically begins with a Brief Order for Confession of Sin and Forgiveness. “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us...” That’s 1 John 1:8. Just about everything we say in the liturgy comes from the Bible.
The Entrance Rite ushers us into God’s presence by immediately taking us out of our comfort zone and our self-serving. Our admission into God’s presence is our admission that we are not who we claim to be, despite our best efforts.
And, if we’re listening carefully at this point, we’re also acknowledging that much of the brokenness and suffering we experience is self-inflicted.
Why is this admission important? Does God take some perverse delight in making us feel bad about ourselves? Well, let’s look at that for a moment.
In every other aspect of our lives, we strive to “put our best foot forward.” Our goal is to “make a good impression.” This is the path to success, right? And success equals happiness. This is the underlying formula for most of our recipes of living the good life.
Take politics for example. Candidates seek success (votes) by pointing out their opponent’s “sins,” and ignoring their own. Or, if they’re really sophisticated, they try to spin their own frailties and shortcomings into something positive. That’s the way our world works.
To be successful, project an image of strength and certainty. We’re captain of our own ship, master of our own fate, and we know exactly where we’re going.
The trouble is that underneath that projection, we know the truth. We project strength to cover our weakness. Certainty to mask our doubts. Independence to hide our insecurities.
Yeah, we’re the captain of our own ship, but the instruments are all jammed, there’s a thick fog, and we’re flying by the seat of our pants not sure where we’re even going. But, don’t tell anyone.
We invest a lot of energy keeping that a secret. Making a good impression requires lots of emotional suppression. As the gap between who we are and who we claim to be (in order to be accepted, successful and loved) widens, our stress increases. The bigger that gap, the greater our stress.
Some come to think then, that it pleases God when we feel awful about ourselves. When we’re filled with self loathing. So we confess our sin with gusto. We pull out a laundry list of sins and delight in adding to it. Even if we have to make stuff up. Heck, it’s all for a good cause.
But, trying to impress God with either our sinfulness or our goodness is equally boneheaded. Besides, it’s a complete waste of energy. Because it is not necessary. How do you impress someone who already loves you? Why would you want to?
So, why do we have to confess our sins when we come before God, if God isn’t just trying to make us feel bad about ourselves? What’s the point?
It’s like carrying heavy bags around with you all the time. Baggage filled with fears, anxieties, secrets that can never see the light of day. Coming into the presence of God, we finally get to put those heavy bags down. Under God’s loving eye, we might even get the courage to begin unpacking them.
In the act of confession, we are relieved of the burden of having to impress God, and each other, and freed to be who we are. We are freed to relate to each other in new ways. We are freed to engage our world in new ways. Supportive, cooperative....not exploiting and self-serving.
And, as we hear in the declaration of absolution that in spite of everything, we are loved by God deeply and unconditionally, we’re turned to a new path. Given a new road map to happiness, peace, fulfillment, contentment and joy.
And you can leave all that baggage here. You won’t be needing it where you’re going.