Confession is good for the soul

Tears welled up last Sunday listening to the Gospel reading for Passion Sunday: Palm Sunday. The reading was LONG, but it didn’t matter. It pierces the heart, step by step –  the human psyche revealed under an electron microscope, humanity on parade. All in one long reading. The tears that welled up Sunday didn’t fall, but they will later this week during Tenebrae, the service of Light and Shadow by the end of which the church is left in darkness, every worshiper’s candle extinguished by recognition of our participation in betrayal, sleeplessness, flight, and denial. One by one, the individual candles get blown out. All of them.

Holy Week for liturgical Christians is a solemn time of confession. There is no escaping our participation in the passion: our readiness to betray, doze off when asked to “watch with me one hour”, flee in fear for security, throw the switch, consciously or unconsciously, into psychological and public denial. Yet there is, at the same time over it all, the faithfulness, the wakefulness, the courage, the embrace of reality in its horror for the sake of love’s transforming power, the light of Christ himself.

Christians live in the dynamic paradox of faithlessness and faithfulness, sin and grace. We include a Prayer of Confession in the Sunday liturgy. Last Sunday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior, Minnesota, the Prayer of Confession, which came following a dramatic reading of the Passion Narrative, expressed the conscious and unconscious nature of sin and grace.

God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. Some sins are plain to us, some sins escape us, some we cannot face. We repent of the sin that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil don on our behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may not turn from your love, but serve only your will. Amen.

We barely know ourselves. Some sins are plain to us. Some escape us. Others are too painful to face. Holy Week is time to wade into the waters of self-reflection, confident that these waters are the healing waters of the deeper Self, the crucified-risen One who cannot finally be betrayed, fled, denied, or killed.

Sunday’s liturgy ended with the singing of the hymn “My Song Is Love Unknown,” lyrics by Samuel Crossman, 1664, music composed by John Ireland. 


Doubting Thomas

Thomas “the doubter” – Thomas “the Twin” – is my favorite Apostle. He is I. I am he.

Why do I love Thomas?  He’s slow to believe. There are many doubts, too much conflicting evidence that begs the questions. The questions come easily. The answers come harder and are few. “Unless I see the nail prints in his hands and place my own hand where the soldier’s sword had pierced his side,” said Thomas to the too credulous others in the Upper Room, “I will not believe.”

This Holy Thursday “I believe. Lord, help my unbelief.”

Poem “THOMAS THE TWIN” – Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, April 4, 2012

To be a twin is to prove every day

How seeing is not believing.  And so,

Of course, I doubted when my friends would say

Many had seen the Lord.  I said, “If so,

A finger in his nail-pierced hand or where

Sword cut his side will prove he lives for sure.”

Then Jesus came into the room and said

He would let me touch him!  My doubt then was

Overcome by his presence.  And he said

Many would be blessed who believed he was

Alive without the benefit of sight…

Seeing may not lead us into the light.

Tonight, Holy Thursday, at 7:00 p.m. Shepherd of the Hill we will gather around the Lord’s Table. Ruth Janousek has drawn us at the Table.

God's Table at Shepherd of the Hill

God's Table at Shepherd of the Hill

Following the simplest Service of Holy Communion, the church will be darkened, lit only by candles held by individual worshiper representing the light of faith. As the Gospel narratives are read aloud … with long silences between them…the candles will be blown out, one by one, as the worshipers recognize ourselves in the story of the betrayal, denial, and flight of the Jesus’ closest friends and followers. It’s an ancient service called Tenebrae, the service of light and shadow.  By the end of the readings, the room will be dark. The only light will be from the Christ candle – the light of God’s faithful mercy and grace that cannot be extinguished.

“Easter Morning”

Steve Shoemaker

It’s Monday of Holy Week. I’m walking with Jesus as best I can toward the cross and  toward the celebration of Easter. This year I’m walking with members of the congregation who are  suffering, in great pain, sick, dying people, trying the best I can to be with them fully in ways that, by the grace of God, might help. This is not head stuff. It’s heart stuff. I get tangled in my head too often. I open the morning email. There’s this double acrostic poem from my old friend Steve Shoemaker, the 6’8″ and shrinking Ph.D. kite-flyer theologian and poet. Thank you, Steve.EASTER MORNING

Either Jesus really did rise or

All his followers made up the worst

Series of lies in history…  Poor

Thomas certainly was right to doubt

Even after hearing tales:  what four

Reached the tomb (or five?)  Who saw him first?


Matthew says two women, Mark says three;

Or was it just one, as said by John?

Reports of what eye-witnesses can see

Never can be trusted.  Luke said one

In the road joined two who could not see–

Not until he broke the bread…  No one

Got the story straight! Conspiracy?


Even grade school kids could do as well.

And Luke throws in Peter saw him too–

Somewhere unreported…  Who could tell

That this jumble of accounts could do

Enough to give faith and hope to all.

Resurrection?  Who could think it true?


Maybe just the simple:  those whose eyes

Open to the light through grief, through tears…

Reminded of love, of truth, of grace…

Needing to be fed, hands out for bread…

Inspired by the scriptures, in whose head

Grow visions:  life can come from the dead.

I’m adding this visual: “Disciples John and Peter on their way to the tomb”:

Disciples John and Peter Run to the Tomb

Burnand, Eugène, 1850-1921. Disciples John and Peter on their way to the tomb on Easter morning, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved April 2, 2012].

Steve and I would love to hear your reflections and responses to Steve’s poem or Burnand’s painting. Thanks for coming by.