Monday, April 06, 2009

Confession, grace, Easter 'n' stuff

So just a couple of interesting (imo) things swirling around in my head:

I liked this article from about "Why Easter Stubbornly Resists the Commercialism that Swallowed Christmas." There are a couple of quite quote-worthy sections, but here's one from the beginning:
"Unlike Christmas, whose deeper spiritual meaning has been all but buried under an annual avalanche of commercialism, Easter has retained a stubborn hold on its identity as a religious holiday. This is all the more surprising when you consider what an opportune time it would be for marketers to convince us to buy more stuff. Typically arriving around the beginning of spring, Easter would be the perfect time for department stores to euchre customers into buying carloads of kids' outdoor toys, warm-weather clothes, and summertime sporting equipment. ...

"So what enables Easter to maintain its religious purity and not devolve into the consumerist nightmare that is Christmas? Well, for one thing, it's hard to make a palatable consumerist holiday out of Easter when its back story is, at least in part, so gruesome. Christmas is cuddly. Easter, despite the bunnies, is not."
and from the middle:
"Even the resurrection, the joyful end of the Easter story, resists domestication as it resists banalization. Unlike Christmas, it also resists a noncommittal response. Even agnostics and atheists who don't accept Christ's divinity can accept the general outlines of the Christmas story with little danger to their worldview. But Easter demands a response. It's hard for a non-Christian believer to say, "Yes, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead." That's not something you can believe without some serious ramifications: If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, this has profound implications for your spiritual and religious life—really, for your whole life. If you believe the story, then you believe that Jesus is God, or at least God's son. What he says about the world and the way we live in that world then has a real claim on you.

Easter is an event that demands a "yes" or a "no." There is no "whatever."

Phew! I've been keeping that open in my browser for several days with a determination to share it. Now I can close that window :)

Now here's the other batch of things:

Tim Chester wrote a post for Resurgence called Creating Communities of Grace. I've read a number of posts by Chester lately calling for us to abandon our typical modus operandi in the church, which is communities of performance, in favor of cultivating communities of grace. It's good, you should read it.

As I was reading it, I was also searching for something for a future PM blog post and came across this article: Bonhoeffer and Individual Confession. I was looking for a bit of an explanation of the Lutheran practice of corporate confession and forgiveness. I think our ministry has learned a lot from our Lutheran friends, and one of the practices that I relish from across the post-reformation divide is their practice of verbal confession of sin and an accompanying verbal proclamation of forgiveness -- giving voice to God's forgiveness of us in Christ.

I was born into a Lutheran church and some of the waters of that baptism must still be stuck to me, because I always find it incredibly powerful and moving to hear God's Word spoken specifically to me, proclaiming his promises and his forgiveness to me.

Now, as I was skimming the Bonhoeffer post, I came across a description of how Bonhoeffer introduced the practice of individual confession into his church, and it was a struggle to inculcate it into the culture of the church. And yet, "The practice of confession was foundational for community in his context, and may also be foundational in our own."

This post is getting long, so I'll just get to the point. While Chester's points for communities of grace are GREAT, I (being a bit on the dense side when considering practice rather than theory) find myself asking, "How do I practice this 'Welcome the Mess' and 'Stop Pretending'?" Maybe part of the answer comes from this Lutheran brother whose blog post I stumbled upon today:
I have sometimes struggled with how specifically to interpret individual confession in our church and in our culture. Something that is in disuse is difficult to reintroduce. But some of that might simply be my own discomfort—clearly, the kind of confrontation of sin and direct speech involved in confession is something which sin itself (and sin’s advocate, the devil) seeks to avoid at all costs. Bonhoeffer writes, “In confession there takes place a breakthrough to community. Sin wants to be alone with people. It takes them away from the community.”

Part of the “how-to” for our culture likely includes sticking very close to the two requirements Bonhoeffer himself had for communities that practice individual confession. First, if you are going to be a confessor, you must practice confession. This is what Bonhoeffer calls a breakthrough to the cross. Second, confession is not a pious act seeking to enumerate all sins and show how horrible we are. It exists for the sake of the absolution, the promise of forgiveness in Christ. This is what Bonhoeffer calls a breakthrough to assurance.
I'm not sure if there's a better time (aside from ALL the time) than Easter to be reminded of the freedom that we have to be a community of confessors ... it is the Resurrection that guarantees that "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

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