I have been a part of the Anglican Church (Church of England) for around 35 years, both as a member of congregations, and as a minister (vicar).
One of the distinguishing features of churches like the Church of England is the pattern of the worship, which nearly always includes prayers of confession, a statement of belief (creed), readings from the Bible, a sermon, prayers of intercession, and often communion.
As well as Anglican Churches, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, Lutheran and other denominations all use the same pattern, which gives rise to the description ‘Liturgical Churches.’
By the way, the word Liturgy, which is usually used to mean the structure of the worship, actually means ‘The Work of the People.’ The idea being that worship is the offering of the whole people of God.
This post is about one aspect of the Liturgy – the prayer of confession, or prayer of penitence.
A typical prayer of confession goes something like this:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we have sinned against you and against our neighbour
in thought and word and deed, through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us, forgive us all that is past and grant that we may serve you in newness of life to the glory of your name. Amen.
The starting point for this type of prayer is a confession that we are sinners. In the Book of Common Prayer, it includes phrases such as “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness …”
Marcus Borg, in his book ‘Speaking Christian’ makes a plea for a wider understanding of the place of public confession in worship.
He argues that prayers of penitence in worship typically focus on sin as thoughts, words and actions that we have committed against God, but that sin needs to be seen in a wider context that includes the idea of sin as – addiction; powers that hold us in bondage; being in exile and needing to return home; sick and wounded and needing healing.
He writes “imagine that our confession of sin was supplemented by images of our predicament as bondage, exile, blindness and infirmity ….. sin matters, but when it and the need for forgiveness become the dominant issue in our lives with God, it reduces and impoverishes the wisom and passion of the Bible.”
In my own prayers, I make use of the Kyrie form of confession, which, rather than taking sin as a starting point, can take some aspect of God’s nature and work.
It uses a trinitarian form – Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
I was reading today from John 10, Psalm 87, and Acts 11, and wrote this Kyrie confession:
Lord, your grace is enough
Lord, have mercy
You have written our names in your book of life
Christ have mercy
Lord you give us eternal life
Lord have mercy
It might be a good exercise for you to try this – take a reading from scripture and focus on something Gos says or does – God’s mercy, grace, compassion etc.
Here’s one take on this subject