In the space between the invitation to confession and the actual words of the prayer, whether it is Morning Prayer Rite I, Compline, Holy Eucharist Rite II, or even the service of Holy Eucharist laid out in Enriching our Worship, there is a rubric that reads, “silence may be kept.” For this low churchman, “may” is mostly a helpful word in the rubrics, it keeps me from being brought up on Title IV charges, but in this circumstance, I wish the rubric had been made without the wiggle room. “Silence shall be kept.” Or “Silence is kept.” would be my preference, and here’s why.
I’m a sinner, and I need sometime, sometimes lots of time, to reflect on my sinful nature before I join with my parish family in confessing those sins corporately. I need that silence to be long enough and awkward enough to search the depths of my heart to find the places where I’ve committed murder through anger and unkind thoughts; where I’ve become liable to the fires of hell; where I’ve failed to be reconciled with my brother or sister before approaching the altar; where I’ve committed adultery by paying more attention to how a woman looks and what she’s wearing than her inherent goodness as a created child of God; or where I’ve failed to trust in myself, my God, or my neighbor by insisting on oaths and pinky swears.
The challenge of this week’s Gospel lesson is that it makes very clear the fact that we are all, in some way or another, fallen, sinful people. It is impossible to read the sermon on the mount and walk away convinced of one’s own perfection. You can’t have Matthew 5:21-37 and Ecclesiasticus 15. So this Sunday, as I serve as celebrant at Saint Paul’s, you can be sure that I’ll leave enough silence to make us squirm just a bit. After all, as the beatitudes tell us, it is when we are most vulnerable that God is present to bless us.