As many (if not most?) Presbyterian churches do, every Lord’s Day as a part of our worship we have a Prayer of Confession followed by an Assurance of Pardon (actually we call it the Declaration of Forgiveness in our order of worship).
A friend of mine, who is also the best preacher in South Mississippi (if you’re ever down his way, go to the church he pastors–that’s an order) once told me he believes the words of the Assurance of Pardon are the most important words he says all week. He often uses these words (and I have followed suit):
Brothers and sisters, hear the Good News:
Who is in a position to condemn?
and Christ died for us,
Christ rose for us,
Christ reigns in power for us,
Christ prays for us.
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.
The old has passed away; everything has become new!
All this is from God
who has reconciled us to himself through Christ.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:17-18a, 21)
Believe the good news of the Gospel: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
During Lent we are following the Assurance of Pardon with the chorus “We Are Forgiven” by Hal Hopson. At other times we sing the Gloria in excelsis (William Mathias) or the Gloria Patri (Greatorex) as the response to the Assurance of Pardon. It is truly a time for lifting up our voices in song.
Assurance of Pardon. Assurance of Forgiveness. Assurance of Eternal Life. We all need to hear this, every week. In the 1562 BCP they were called the “Comfortable Words” (i.e., Words of Comfort), and indeed we need comforting in this way.
This Sunday’s Assurance of Pardon lays it out there so clearly. If you’ve been waiting for a day to invite someone to church, this is it. This Assurance of Pardon, the Gospel Lesson for Sunday (John 3:14-21), the Psalm (51) and the Hymns (including “Amazing Grace” and “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”) all speak the same message, from the beginning of the service to the end. G-R-A-C-E.
We call our service “Divine Service of Covenant Renewal”, but “Gospel Service” would be just as good, and maybe a little more to the point. We don’t just read from one of the Gospels every week. I don’t just preach from one of the Gospels most weeks. The entire service emobodies the Gospel from the beginning (as we approach a holy God with confession of our sins) to the end (as we participate in the church’s Great Thanksgiving for Christ’s Body and Blood, given for us and for our salvation).
Here are the words of this week’s Assurance of Pardon:
Question 60. How are you right with God?
Answer. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments and of never having kept any of them, and even though I am still ever inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is accept this gift of God with a believing heart.
Yes, Dutchies: that’s from the Heidelberg Catechism.