A few years ago, I was leading a bible study in a North Carolina jail. One of the regular members of our study had been very courageous that day, confessing that he often felt lost in the Bible studies, had trouble following our conversations, and didn’t really know how to grow in his faith.
As we talked about the importance of prayer, I mentioned that there are times that I find prayer very difficult. During those times, I often turn to the Psalms because they served as the Book of Worship for the Hebrew people. I told the group that I sometimes use the psalms as a starting place for my prayers, praying them aloud until my own words come.
He was shocked. “That’s what I’m talking about,” he said. “I had no idea that the psalms were songs and prayers and that the Hebrew people used them in their worship. That is really helpful to know.”
Psalm 32 is just such a prayer. I have a tendency, however, to read that in an individualistic manner – admitting my own personal sins to God. It is I important for me to remember that these psalms were both individual and corporate prayers for the faithful. In reading this psalm together, it was not just an acknowledgment that I have sinned, but that we (the community) have sinned.
At its root, confession then is a deeply relational practice. The biblical picture is that sin is a break in relationships – our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. Confession is an admission that we have broken the sacred trust that binds us to one another. Confession is the beginning of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation as a community.
Similarly, forgiveness is no private affair. As Jesus taught, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). This is the true essence of community, confession, and repentance. As we loose one another from the obligations and guilt with which sin has imprisoned us, God will likewise loose them in heaven. As we bind ourselves to one another in love and reconciliation, God will likewise bind us together into the beloved community, the body of Christ on Earth.
This week, our Jewish brothers and sisters observed Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar — a day of reflection, confession, and atonement. During Yom Kippur, people of faith gather to acknowledge their sin and ask God to forgive the things they’ve done, both individually and corporately as humans. Worship on Yom Kippur centers on the themes of forgiveness and teshuvah, or repentance.
As people of faith, may we join this call to the courageous act of confession and repentance. May we join the call to embody a radical community of reconciliation and healing – one where we dare to lay our sins bare before our community; one where we hear God’s words echo loud and clear, “I forgive you. I love you.”