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Confession is Good for the Soul

“Confession is good for the soul,” my mom would say, borrowing a Scottish proverb after asking, “Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?”

Confession introduces our Sunday liturgy, “Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.  We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone….”  Confession dates to the Mosaic code, “When you realize your guilt in any of these, you should confess the sin you have committed” (Leviticus 5:5). Found in the Proverbs is this instruction, “No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (28:13).

Public confession lost its appeal to private confession in the early Middle Ages, emerging first in Celtic monasteries and catching on by the 12th century, writes Frank Senn (Christian Liturgy). The church began to include in its rite of private confession both self-examination and a required outward penitential “act of satisfaction.”

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, introduced annual Covenant Renewal services in 1775, a time of self-examination, reflection and dedication. The service was held on the Sunday nearest January 1 and is practiced to this day in many churches as “Watch Night” services. The service provides the faithful with an alternative to an otherwise raucous New Year’s Eve celebration.

Making “New Year’s Resolutions” is a secular confession of sins practiced by many today, acknowledging one’s need for self- improvement. Some make resolutions to God; some only to oneself.

Confession is good for the soul. Besides the usual resolutions, the promise to stay fit, eat healthy, get out of debt, get organized, consider one or more of these for 2018:

  1. Give more time to prayer — alone, with family and in church.
  1. Give time to reading the Bible: use the “Book of Faith” initiative of the ELCA and read through the Bible with others or through the “Book of Faith” social media.
  1. Find time to love; don’t let job, hobbies, even church take precious time away from being with loved ones.
  1. Take it easy: Obey the Fourth Commandment and give yourself leisure time to walk, garden, enjoy a movie, let go of stress. And take a break from the gadgets that can become addicting.
  1. Give up that which is taking your joy: negative thinking, bad habits, complaining, finding fault; fill the new found time with thankfulness for grace received.
  1. Worry less, the Psalmist instructs us, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you” (55:22).
  1. Let this proverb guide you throughout 2018: “Anxiety weighs down the human heart, but a good word cheers it up” (12:25).
  1. Resolve to be in church every Sunday with friends, family, and neighbors you’ve invited.  The confession that begins worship will be good for the soul. The absolution, music, prayers, lessons, sermon, holy communion, and coffee all following will also be good for the soul.
  1. Resolve that every day is lived as if the last and these words of welcome recorded in Matthew’s gospel (25:35) are heard at night fall:  “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Blessed New Year to all.

– Stephen H. Swanson