New Apostolic Church USA

Peace Be Unto You

"Forgiveness" from the 2020 Spring Vision Newsletter

As we live through this unique time where we are unable to come together for divine services, perhaps we have pondered how our sins can be forgiven. What happens when we cannot hear the absolution? Below, you will find the main body of the script from one of our April small group sessions that speaks to this challenge. We hope it will bring you comfort, and also a longing to come to Christ’s table once more.

Repentance starts with awareness. We must be aware of and reflect on our sinful actions and thoughts, but a deeper recognition must take place: that we are perpetually sinful beings. Realizing how far we actually are from God allows us to take steps to move closer to Him. We are often running in the wrong direction and need to turn back. Awareness leads to remorse. Our broken relationship with God brings us grief and sadness, especially when compared to the goodness and love that He offers.

As we experience this inner turmoil and pain, we confess our sins to God. Apostle John reminds us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). This is a prayer that we can practice daily, continually exposing our souls to God in confession and finally asking for His forgiveness and His strength to help us in our resolve to change. Having received forgiveness ourselves prompts us to go down the path of forgiveness and reconciliation with our brother, sister, or neighbor, as we pray together in the Lord’s Prayer – Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Cultivating a repentant heart towards God and seeking His forgiveness are not things that only happen on Sunday; rather, we should wrestle daily, in thought, in prayer, and in reconciling conversations with those we love.

Recognizing that God forgives our sins when we approach Him in repentance, remorse, and confession – let’s explore the purpose and importance of the absolution that we hear every Sunday. In the divine service, before the sacrament of Holy Communion, we hear these words, known as the absolution:

I proclaim unto you the glad tidings: in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, your sins are forgiven. The peace of the Risen One abide with you. Amen.

These words are the assurance of God’s forgiveness – they remind us of His willingness to give us a fresh start by the merit of Christ’s sacrifice, and the promise that the Lord loves us and accepts us, no matter how many times we fail. Jesus is the One who forgives our sins, not the minister. But the opportunity to hear those words spoken to us is something that we cannot take for granted. These are comforting words to a repentant sinner.

Let me use two familiar characters to illustrate: Peter and Judas. As we are fresh from experiencing Good Friday and Easter, let us again delve into their stories. Judas betrayed Jesus into the hands of the soldiers, which led to His arrest and crucifixion. While Jesus was being tried and beaten, Peter denied knowing Him three times.

Peter denied Jesus, yet experienced the joy and life of Easter. Judas betrayed Jesus, but chose death in a field, alone (Matthew 27:3-10). Both were remorseful: we read in the gospels that after his denial, Peter wept bitterly (Matthew 26:69-75 / Luke 22:54-62), and Judas was filled with remorse. However, Judas did not get to see the wounds of the resurrected Jesus, or hear Him say, “Peace be unto you” in the presence of the disciples, or eat breakfast with Him on the shore, or experience the joy and wonder of Pentecost. He is known as the villain of the story, while Peter became the rock on which the church was built. What is the difference between Judas and Peter? Peter repented and turned back to the circle of the disciples. Judas regretted his actions and fled.

In isolation, Judas could not experience the grace of God. Ashamed, he withdrew from the community in which he could hear and experience words of forgiveness. He could not create for himself God’s word of grace, and neither can we. We need to hear it said over us, like a balm on our brokenness. As Paul says, faith comes through hearing (Romans 10:17), and in order for us to believe that we are forgiven, we need someone to say it to us. And this is what Jesus gave His apostles the authority to do – to proclaim forgiveness, to preach forgiveness in His name.

It’s through hearing that we are assured of forgiveness, love, and the peace of Christ. By accepting and believing those words, we can prepare ourselves to have communion with Jesus Christ, our Savior.

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