I attend an Anglican Church at the moment. I also work in one. For all intents and purposes I have become fully Anglicanised, but there are still things about Anglicanism that baffle me. The Prayer Book is one of those things – I’ve never actually understood why they bother with it when they have other resources. Like… you know… the Bible. I’ve since come to appreciate the Prayer Book – as much as a Presbyterian can, I imagine – and I was happy to learn that it’s not used as a replacement for the Bible. (Well, it might be in some churches. Not in mine, and not in the church where I work – and as that’s the sum total of my Anglican experience, I’m satisfied that the Prayer Book is used appropriately in the Anglican Church.)
There have been a few variations of the Prayer Book. One of the first authorised versions was the Book of Common Prayer, or BCP, written in 1662. At my work the BCP is used at the traditional service whenever there is a fifth Sunday in the month. To save the predominantly elderly parishioners from squinting at the teeny, tiny, squished-together print, we created a booklet containing just the text of the communion service. I had to retype this the other day (long story) and thus had my first exposure to the BCP. It’s archaic in language and contains things like prayer for the ruling monarch, which means when you’re in a British colony you get to pray for the Queen but not your own government. Anyway, I was typing away, not all that interested in what I was typing, when I came to the General Confession. You can read the whole thing here, but the part that brought me up short was this:
We do earnestly repent,
And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings;
The remembrance of them is grievous unto us;
The burden of them is intolerable.
Compare this with the confession used in most services today:
you have loved us with an everlasting love,
but we have broken your holy laws
and have left undone what we ought to have done.
We are sorry for our sins and turn away from them.
For the sake of your Son who died for us,
forgive us, cleanse us and change us.
By your Holy Spirit, enable us to live for you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the modern confession. I’m happy to say it, and I think it helpfully highlights the seriousness of sin, our need for forgiveness and the fact that God freely forgives us. But compared with the BCP confession, it seems to miss something. It doesn’t say anything about the consequences of sin.
Sometimes I think we treat forgiveness as ‘forgive and forget’; as though, once we’ve been forgiven, the memory of sin, along with any consequences, just goes away. But I don’t think it works that way. What if your sin is something that lands you in gaol? Sure, God forgives you, but you’re still in gaol. The consequences don’t disappear. What if the remembrance of your sin continues to cause you pain and heartache? What if, indeed, the remembrance of them is grievous and the burden is intolerable? That doesn’t sound like forgive and forget. That sounds like forgive and remember.
I like the BCP confession because it is honest about sin. Yes, God forgives us, but there will probably still be consequences, and we have to live with them. And that’s hard, and painful. But you know, I think that’s what’s so fantastic about grace. God does NOT forget our sin. He remembers. He remembers everything, even the things that we push down and try to forget. He not only remembers, he can see the much bigger picture of the consequences. He knows who was hurt by our sin and how that continued to affect them. He knows and he remembers… yet he still forgives.
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.
He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.