Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5:16
In the spring of 1996, I was sitting in the classroom of my mentor and fellow English teacher, talking through the challenges of my first year of teaching high school. We moved on to more personal areas of my life, including the cloud of shame and struggle I was experiencing in my early years of coming out of an addiction. “You need to go to confession,” he said. “I don’t think so,” I replied. “I’ve already confessed my sins, and it says in 1 John 1:9 that I’m already forgiven.” (At this point in my journey, I was an Evangelical/Charismatic more than a little suspicious of my new Anglican friend with his talk of sacraments and liturgy.) “Very true. But, trust me, go see this Episcopal priest I know, and ask him to take you through the ‘Reconciliation of a Penitent’ rite.”
I did. It was a simple, non-dramatic 15 minutes. Father Billy and I knelt, opened the Book of Common Prayer to page 449, and prayed together through the words of the rite. We paused at one point for me to share what weighed heavily on my conscience. Then he laid his hand on my head, and pronounced absolution of my sins through the sacrifice of Jesus by the grace of the Holy Spirit. He embraced me, assured me of my forgiveness, and sent me on my way with the words, “Go in peace. The Lord has put away all your sins” (p. 451 of the BCP). I felt very little emotion during our time together, but I was pleased with how biblical it all was.
About six weeks later, however, I noticed that the cloud had lifted. As I reflected on this new experience of grace, I realized I could trace it back to that day with Father Billy. Years later I would begin to understand that I had encountered the reality of sacrament – an outward expression of the inward reality of grace given to me. Forgiveness proclaimed with a Christ-given authority brought change into my life.
On Wednesday, April 5, we invite you to participate in a day of reconciliation – St. B’s offering of the sacramental rite of “The Reconciliation of a Penitent.” As you journey through Lent with us this year, pay attention to the pricks of conscience, the clouds, the struggles that you experience.
While the experience may be different for each person, the reality will be the same – forgiveness, restoration, and grace will be given through the authority of Christ.