Well, here we are in the last week of, Life Together, my how time flies. Uh-Oh, we have to talk about sin this week… so let’s jump in! Bonhoeffer has led us through several practical guides and philosophical explanations for the joy that is experienced in genuine Christian community, and he says that the confession of sins to one another is the final breakthrough. Bonhoeffer is of the opinion that sin bears such a weight on us that, no matter how authentic our time together is, how much we love one another, how devoted we are to scripture study, etc. we may still feel utterly alone under its weight. I think he’s on to something at the beginning of the chapter when he talks about this Pius fellowship mentality that we are prone to in churches; he says we often get taken aback when a, “real sinner,” is brought into our midst… as if what sin we already lived in was no big deal. If we were more honest with ourselves and one another, it’s likely that we as the Holy catholic church would be more welcoming to the average Jill who feels like her sin has pushed her too far away from God. And it’s likely that we would find ourselves more at home within Christian community when we realized others were struggling with the same things we were. But it doesn’t just stop with pointing out flaws, mistakes, and offenses toward God, there’s an absolutely essential forgiveness piece, as well, and it’s crucial to involve a brother or sister in this. Christ came so that all sin committed for all of time might be forgiven, and Bonhoeffer explains that your brothers or sisters in Christian community can stand in Christ’s stead in reminding you that your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name. Methodism was built on the foundation of the small group; there were groups called classes and bands that shared each other’s struggles by confessing sin, praying for one another’s sins, and holding one another accountable at least weekly. Here is some more information on those things. If you uphold the seriousness of these sample questions, but update the language a little bit, you and your friends may find this very helpful. http://housechurch.org/miscellaneous/wesley_band-societies.html
Let’s talk about the two dangers of confession that Bonhoeffer names. He writes, “It is not good for one person in a Christian community to become the hearer for all others, for he will be overburdened. Thus, confession will be for him a mindless and empty routine” (P. 120). I think this danger speaks to everyone, even though not all faith traditions believe in one person hearing the sins of all. I think there is a danger in allowing the confession of sin to become a mindless routine. It is not helpful, by my understanding, to simply add general confessions of sin without giving thought to specific instances. Sin, as I understand it, refers to those offenses we make against God in which we allow selfishness, lust, idolatry, anger, or other passions besides Christ-like love to take over our hearts. If you disagree, feel free to drop something in the comments, but I think Bonhoeffer’s warning still stands to all. The second warning is given to the one who confesses. “For the salvation of his soul let him guard against ever making a pious work of his confession. if he does so, it will become the final, most abominable, vicious, impure prostitution of the heart” (P. 120). Yikes! All I really have to say about this is to echo the next thing Bonhoeffer writes, that the whole reason we are confessing our sin in the first place is because we are humbled by the grace of God, despite the fact that we are not worthy by our own merits.
The topic of confession leads directly into Communion, based on the historic understanding of Holy Communion. In the United Methodist Church, we invite one another to Christ’s table with the following invitation. “Christ our Lord invites to his table all those who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with one another. Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another.” I think Bonhoeffer would echo this sentiment, based on his quote that says Christ commands us not to come to the altar without a clean and right heart. When I was younger, my dad used to explain it to children as a more serious version of washing your hands before dinner. Why do you wash your hands before dinner? So you don’t put something dirty into your body. Why do you confess your sin to God and before your brothers and sisters before Holy Communion? Because we must come to Christ’s table with a pure and humble heart. Communion continues with a congregation praying a prayer of confession together, and often times, the pastor presiding over Communion will offer a few moments for congregants to silently confess their sin. When this is finished, the presiding pastor declares, “Hear the good news, Christ died for us, while we were yet sinners. This proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven!” And the congregation responds, so as to remind the pastor that he or she is also made blameless before God. “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.” And all say together, “Glory to God! Amen!” I could go on with a word by word explanation of Communion because I love it so much… but I will spare you. I will leave you with a hot take from Tony Jeck and the lovely closing quote from our man, D.B. Tony offered to us in the gathering and scattering series that Holy Communion is the perfect representation of the rhythm of gathering for worship and scattering for mission. After gathering to receive Christ’s body and blood, we pray the following, “By your Spirit make us one with each other, one with Christ, and one in ministry to all the world until Christ comes again in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.” It’s almost as if we pray, “until next time…” and then we have a sort of sending forth dimension to the whole thing. And so here’s the closing thought from Dietrich. “The fellowship of the Lord’s Supper is the superlative fulfillment of Christian fellowship. As the members of the congregation are united in Body and Blood at the table of the Lord, so will they be together in eternity. Here the community has reached its goal. Her. the joy of Christ in his community is complete. The life of Christians under the word has reached its perfection in the sacrament” (P. 122). Well if I said anymore after this, I think Paul would call me a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal… ;) See you guys next week with the first of Bo’s reflections on, Mere Christianity.
Stay woke out there,