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Cleanse the Thoughts of Our Hearts 

Rev. Pete Molloy (Photo: Sue Careless)

RECENTLY I have moved to a new parish, a parish whose liturgical tradition is really quite different from that to which I have been accustomed. It is a very interesting experience. I have never been a liturgical purist; I have opinions certainly, but I am quite happy to slip into other traditions on occasion. But now being tasked with leading the worship of a church that is quite different has caused me to spend a fair amount of time reading widely on worship and reflecting on what is at the root of my particular commitments.

Now to be clear, I am certainly not qualified to give a comprehensive overview of worship, I have always been much more comfortable conforming to a pattern than creating one of my own. But again, in my recent circumstances I have been thinking a lot about particular elements and in light of our Lenten journey, I wanted to make the case for the indispensability of corporate confession and absolution.

It is not lost on me that the act of confessing one’s sins corporately can be a bit gloomy and morbid and can have a rather unfriendly or dispiriting effect on people gathered. If the goal is to be uplifted in worship, reminding ourselves of our basest moment appears to be entirely in the wrong direction. I don’t think any secular event planner would allow for it. But like so many things in scripture the path to being uplifted runs exactly contrary to popular wisdom

Call to mind the first of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It is such an odd
teaching. But the wisdom is, of course, that the necessary precondition to the Kingdom of Heaven is that we desire it. More than that, that we acknowledge our absolute need for it and our inability to obtain it on our own. And thus it is a blessing to us to be ‘poor in spirit’ because our dissatisfaction with our impoverished state allows us to seek our satisfaction in Christ. The opposite of this, of course, is someone who is ‘rich in spirit,’ someone who feels like their spiritual state is sufficient. They will not see the Kingdom of Heaven because at their core they feel no need of it.

One of the most profound lines in the Book of Common Prayer is found in the Prayer for the Parish (p.44), where we pray “Guard from forgetfulness of thee those who are strong and prosperous.” I think this speaks to the pernicious threat that self-satisfaction is to our souls.

As we gather to worship corporately, I can think of no more unifying an act than acknowledging together our spiritual poverty. For Christians the common ground is very much on our knees. And when we do so, we can, as the Psalmist writes, ascend together into the very presence of God: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4).

Brothers and sisters, although we are scattered across the country, let us be united in the contrition of our hearts this Lent. As we usher in this season, let me leave you with this Exhortation.   TAP

BRETHREN, in the primitive Church it was the custom to observe with great devotion the days of our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection, and to prepare for the same by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided also a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for holy Baptism. It was also a time when such persons as had, by reason of notorious sins, been separated from the body of the faithful, were reconciled and restored to the fellowship of the Church by penitence and forgiveness. Thereby the whole Congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution contained in the Gospel of our Saviour, and of the need which all Christians continually have, of a renewal of their repentance and faith. I therefore invite you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting, and self-denial, and by reading and meditation upon God’s holy Word (BCP p. 611).

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