Finding Our Way Home to Easter
“Abba John the Little said: We have abandoned a light burden, namely self-criticism, and taken up a heavy burden, namely self-justification.” -from Desert Wisdom
I wonder how many hours of our life are lost to exculpatory explanations.
“You hear how she talks to me?”
“Do you see the way he’s dressed?”
“How dare they? After all I’ve done for them.”
We treat the whole world as a giant Oprah set, where we sit, spilling the details of every hateful encounter and exchange. We always have a reason, an excuse — a good one— for what we’ve done. And we don’t merely want you to listen. We want you to agree. With us. Then vote to acquit.
We hand over our rags and receive treasure in return, the graceful words of absolution, ‘You are forgiven.’
If you’ll just stay with me, I don’t doubt you’ll agree I was right to 1) smack him 2) refuse to pay her 3) cut them off.
All this takes time: Gathering the evidence, finding the witnesses, telling, and re-telling the story, assessing the jury, making the case. It helps to cultivate a like-minded group of acquaintances, people who concur that, while fifteen items in the express checkout line may be tolerable, twenty is not. Something must be done; the miscreant confronted and shamed right there by the candy counter.
Given the work involved, perhaps the Church is missing a bet in the way we present confession. We might want to emphasize the freedom that is at the heart of this sacrament. Think about it: Most of our hearts are like junk closets, filled with old clothes we can no longer wear. Useless piles take up room in our lives, but we can’t bear to throw them away. We go through the sweaters, wondering if there might be a season for this one, a need for that one, a new detergent that will get out these stains. It is so liberating to stop dithering, to fill a trash bag with our refuse and then take it to Goodwill.
Confession is like finally cleaning the closet. No more waffling or nostalgic grasping or wriggling to squeeze into what no longer fits; just get rid of it. Haul the trash bag into the priest and put it down. Let it go.
The gift of confession is the gift of the short, and true, declarative sentence.
“I belittle my husband. I nag at my children. I’m sorry.”
We hand over our rags and receive treasure in return, the graceful words of absolution, “You are forgiven.”
No one is left bereft, or the poorer for giving away everything she pulled from the dark corners. God fills our empty hands with mercy. God salves our burning ears with the words we heard first at baptism, the sound of our true names in Christ: Forgiven, Redeemed, Set Free.
It sounds like a trade: trash for treasure, but it isn’t that, anymore than cleaning out a closet brings a new closet. The room was always there, the space, so open and full of promise, just waiting to be revealed. In confession, God gives us what we have been offered all along: Mercy, mercy, and still yet more mercy. But we can’t receive what is poured out upon us until our hands are open and empty and able to receive.
As long as our hands and hearts are full of excuses and self-justification, as long as our lips are imploring all to hear “our side,” we can neither hear nor accept the good news, which is this: There are no sides; there is only God, waiting, for us.
We are all wandering, sleeping with pigs, eating their husks and wasting our inheritance. And every one of us is invited to come home, to take off our rags — whether of self-abasement or self-justification — and put on the royal robes God has ready.
The writer of Luke uses such a plain phrase to describe the lost son’s moment of insight. He writes that the young man came “to his senses,” to reality, to the truth. It has nothing to do with his resentment of his brother (perhaps richly deserved) or his desire for early inheritance (perhaps reasonable). It has everything to do with his father and his father’s house and what awaits him there.
Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here I am, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.
We know the father’s response. It was to fill his son’s empty, hungry hands with good gifts. It was to call for music and dancing. It is the same response today, in this season of finding our way home, to Easter.
– Melissa Musick