There are several moments in the Sunday liturgy that I approach with fear and trepidation. Pronouncing God’s blessing is an amazing responsibility. Daring to stand at God’s altar, and on behalf of the congregation, offering thanksgiving for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a true joy. Rehearsing the weekly announcements makes me want to poke myself in the eye. Above all the rest, however, the largest responsibility of my priestly vocation is standing up, solely, before the congregation after we’ve corporately confessed our sins and proclaiming God’s forgiveness.
“Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, keep you in everlasting life.” (BCP, p. 360)
I feel the weight of this awesome responsibility every Sunday, (and especially on Ash Wednesday), and I’m reminded of this in the Gospel lesson appointed for Sunday. “Who is this who even forgives sins?” the crowd asks. The one who dares speak forgiveness stands in a precarious place; be it Jesus (who actually forgives the woman’s sins) or a priest (who speaks on behalf of the Church based on the authority given the Apostles in John 20.23 and elsewhere). It is a dangerous pronouncement because of how powerful it is. Forgiveness is a release from debt, a restoration to fullness of life, a chance for a fresh start. And the good news is that Jesus offers it to us again and again and again.