Weekly church services generally follow astandard Order of Service – the sequence of activities from greeting to benediction. In many mainline congregations (am I the only one who has trouble saying “mainline” without smiling?), that includes a “Prayer of Reconciliation” followed by an “Assurance of Pardon.” It’s usually near the beginning of the service.
The Prayer is about as close as we Protestants come to Confession. It’s the part where we admit to being crap – although the words are usually more euphemistic, along the lines of “we’ve failed”, “we’re not worthy”, and so on. It’s usually printed in the bulletin and recited by the congregation in unison.
The Assurance is the part where the minister or whoever is leading worship reassures the pew-sitters that God still loves us, even though what we really deserve is to be tossed on the scrapheap along with other failed experiments like New Coke and the Segway.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Let’s look at it in another context.
How would we react if our son or daughter came home and told us that their math teacher had given them a written handout to recite. Something that went sorta like this –
“Dear Principal, we suck at math. We know we should be able to do long division but it’s boring. We know we should love trigonometry but we would rather spend our time on Twitter. When it comes to multiplication, we find ourselves tempted to engage in sexting instead. Forgive us, dear Principal, we are not worthy to be in school.”
Would it really matter to us that the teacher then stood up and said something like – “Well yeah, you’re really not very good, but the Principal still cares about you. Don’t ask me why, it’s just the way the Principal is. Bottom line? You suck. Get better.”
I think we’d descend en masse on the school expecting heads to roll. And rightly so.
When our kids struggle with a subject in school or a task in life we don’t, if we’re trying to help them to become well-adjusted adults, tell them they suck. We help them to recognize some other area that they excel in. No good at math? So what? Maybe they’re a whiz at fixing their sister’s broken toys, or maybe they love sports, or culinary arts, or volunteering.
We help them to find their strengths. And then we encourage them to find the approach to life that builds on those strengths.
Sure, we know they need to recognize and deal with their weaknesses. We all do. But we don’t, if we love them, tell them they’re crap.
Faith should work the same way. So should “Sunday service.”
Rather than rub our noses in our failings, which most of us are all too aware of anyway, what if we focused on what our faith has helped us to accomplish?
What if our Prayers of Reconciliation, rather than a confession of failure, were an acknowledgement of success? What if the Assurance was an encouragement, and a challenge, to succeed more often?
Prayer of Reconciliation (in unison, whether you’re in a church or in front of computer)
Dear God; in spite of the fact that we were scared, at least one of us spoke out this week in support of someone who was vulnerable. We worry about supporting our families, God, but at least some of us offered a few coins to people we passed who were sitting on the sidewalk, hat in hand. It feels like we’re failing more often than we’re succeeding, but we’re trying to live our relationship with you every day.
Assurance of Pardon
God is with us when we overcome our fears and our worry to do good. Just as God is with us when we’re unable to overcome them. God doesn’t expect us to get 100% on every test. Just to do our best. To celebrate our successes; accept our failures. And to keep trying.
God is with us through it all; encouraging, uplifting, strengthening. Let us be aware of God’s Presence with us so that we are less afraid, less worried, and more courageous, each day.
This week, may that be true for us all.