After our final Elephant in the Pew series message on “Is there a Hell?” I had a conversation with Cathy Sherry about sin and repentance. In the Christian tradition, and here at Hayshire, we include a time of Confession and Assurance of Grace as a part of our regular weekly worship liturgy. While we recognize that it is important for us to name and ask forgiveness for the sins we perform in our lives, we usually just “go through the motions” of doing so during our weekly worship. I don’t think we truly take it seriously, or maybe even see that it is necessary for our lives.
Why do we include a communal time of Confession each week?
Each week, our bulletin states that there is a time of silence between our communal confession and the assurance of grace. Why? What is that time intended for?
Remember, I mentioned in my Elephant in the Pew Message on “Is there a Hell?” that: “Every act we do in our lifetime leaves an imprint on our souls. The good we do brightens and elevates our soul, and every wrongdoing leaves a stain that needs to be cleansed. And if at the end of our life, we leave this world without fixing the wrongs we have done, our soul is unable to reach its place of rest on high” (Marin, 08/25/19).
So, weekly, we provide a brief time of silence to be with God, and to confess where we fall short in our faithfulness to God. Yet, we often find this “quiet” time uncomfortable and hard to hold. I think, in part, because we don’t really know what is expected of us in that time. We become restless and our brains become hyper active, preventing us from opening ourselves to quiet contemplation or conversation with God, even for a minute. Or it could be hard to do this because we know there isn’t much time. It’s also harder because we are in a crowd with others around us who are also uncomfortable, fidgeting, whispering, etc. Plus, the fact that it feels even longer when you are standing up here trying to lead worship. Every second feels like 10 or more. So, depending on how comfortable our liturgist is with “quiet” and being up front, the time between our confession and assurance can be really quick (only a few seconds) or a bit longer (a minute or so).
Regardless, our time of communal Confession is a model of what we should be doing as individuals on a regular basis.
Do you take time regularly – daily, weekly, monthly – to actually engage in confession before God? I would bet most of us don’t. Why?
I would bet it is because we hate to focus on the negatives, we hate to actually name what we do wrong. Or, maybe it’s because we don’t think that we really do that much wrong. At least not enough wrong for regular confession. Shouldn’t confessions be for the big stuff – you know the big, blatant ones – like stealing, cheating, lying, physically harming others, etc.?
And if you are like me, you are your own worst critic and it is too easy to name what you think/feel you are doing wrong. You don’t need a specific time to sit and list them all, you beat yourself up on a regular basis as an ongoing practice. If that is the case, then this message is really for you, because confession is not just about naming where we fall short or go wrong, it’s also, and more importantly, about forgiveness – specifically, God forgiving us and washing us clean once again.
Cathy went on to say, “If you want, you can actually take your message on sin and forgiveness to the next level. You can help the congregation explore the need for regular confession and the release it can bring to our hearts and souls. At the end of September, she said, Judiasm celebrates Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish “new year” – where they have a ritual called Tashlich, in which they cast off their sins and beginning again. You might want to look into it.
So, I did. Judaism celebrates the “new year” in a way very different from the rest of the world. How do you celebrate the “new year”?
Many of us also make resolutions for the “new year.” Things that we want to do to make our lives better. What happens to the majority of those resolutions? They are forgotten or given up on within a short period of time, and life goes back to “normal.”
In Judaism, the transition from one year to the next is a bit different. In fact, it has a very deep and important role in the way the devout live.
Rosh Hashanah is one of the “High Holy Days” that Judaism practices, and is started and with the blowing of the shofar. The blowing of the shofar represents the trumpet blast that is sounded at a king’s coronation. Its plaintive cry also serves as a call to repentance. Let’s listen to the sound of the shofar as our hearts and minds are called into a time of preparation for true engagement with God.
(YouTube clip – blowing the shofar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJwfsYxDgJ4)
The shofar is blown periodically throughout the day as those gathered within the synagogues share prayers, singing, and enter into a time of deep, personal contemplation of the way that they have lived and acted over the past year, and the very changes that need to be made in their life moving forward.
Yet, just like for us, Judaism is not all about time within the synagogue spent in prayer, singing, listening to readings. There is a time when their faith must be put into practical use, it must be lived.
So, as evening approaches, the community gathers for a ritual “Tashlich” service or a time of “casting off” – a time to rid themselves of the weighty sins of their actions and behaviors over the past year.
The community gathers near a body of water – “usually a running body of water such as a sea, river, stream, lake, or pond.” One Jewish commentator stated that “a bucket of water will do if you are unable to make it to another location” (Hirschhorn).
The scripture of the day often points towards water’s role in God’s plans for forgiveness of God’s people:
For us, Christians, we could add:
This ritual of Tashlich allows one to cast off their sins and release their hearts and souls of the weight they have carried over the past year, and enter into a new chapter of life, a new year with a fresh start in their relationship with God. Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez says that “Judaism sometimes get so abstract and so lost in words. It’s nice when you can just throw it away into the ocean. It’s very powerful.”
Today is a time of living into our faith, a time of experiencing, for ourselves, the amazing love and transformation of God. As we move forward with the rest of our time together, we will share in a communal confession and hear the assurance of grace from our God. This will be followed by a time of personal contemplation – while we hear the words of our closing hymn – “If I have Been the Source of Pain, O God”. As we listen to the choir sing this hymn, and maybe even sing along ourselves, I ask you to prayerfully identify within yourself at least one (1) specific sin you wish to let go of – to totally cast out of your life, to be free from. As the choir sings, and Laine plays for us, when you are ready, you may quietly exit and cast off – drop the weighty rock of your sins – into either this bin up here, next to me, or in one of the vessels located at the doors in the back.
As you drop your rock into the water, quietly name your sin(s) and say “God, I offer this to you. Create in me a clean heart, and place a right spirit within me.”
Sisters and brothers……
May God bless you and keep you this week.
May God refresh your spirit
And bring you peace.
Hirschhorn, Linda. Writings – Tashlich (5773), copyrighted 2012. www.lindahirschhorn.com/writings/tashlich.html
Marin, Brenda K. Rev, “Is there a Hell?” sermon, 08/25/19 Elephant in the Pew series.
Wittner, Michael, article “Tashlich: A time to cast away sins as we start the New Year,” September 7, 2018. Jewishjournal.org/2018/09/07/Tashlich-a-time-to-cast-away-sins-as-we-start-the-new-year/