We confess to you AND TO ONE ANOTHER

Most holy and merciful Father:  We confess to you and to one another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought word and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. (Page 267, The Book of Common Prayer)

So begins the “Litany of Penitence” Episcopalians use on this Ash Wednesday.  As much as I value the forty days of Lent as a season for prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, I must admit to increasing discomfort with our focus on begging for mercy from God, often seemingly groveling before the Holy One as “miserable sinners” not worthy to “gather up the crumbs under (God’s) table.”

Our sins don’t hurt God nearly as much as they hurt one another and ourselves. How much better if we said these words from our General Confession to each other, to the ones we have actually hurt and wronged by our thoughtless and selfish behavior:

“…I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor (either). I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of…Jesus Christ…have mercy on me and forgive me…”

I think we need to spend a whole lot more time this Lent asking one another for forgiveness and seeking to amend our lives for those many ways we have sinned against one another. Including the broader, actually more important, categories than we usually confess, such as those included farther down in that same Litany of Penitence:

“…all our past unfaithfulness, the pride, hypocrisy and impatience of our lives…our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people…our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves…our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work…our waste and pollution of…creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us.”

Yes, we have plenty of need for a season of “penitence and fasting.” Let’s just have the courage to confess our sins and ask forgiveness of the ones we have actually wounded —  one another.


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