Most mornings I manage to say the old morning prayer office out of the Book of Common Prayer. For many this prayer book no longer communicates grace the way it once did and I can both understand and respect that. It would be easy to get into a digression on the various merits of various prayer books but that’s not what this is about.
That office of morning prayer begins with an act confession. Almost every morning my time of prayer begins with “Almighty and most merciful Father, I have erred and strayed from thy ways like a lost sheep…” The prayer is written in the first person plural for corporate worship but I have switched out the “we” for “I” in almost every case, almost every morning. I’ve made it the first person singular.
I did it because I want to start my time of prayer acknowledging my failings and sinfulness. I don’t want to create any kind of distance for myself by pretending as if the confession isn’t about my sins. As if it’s about some collective thing for which I’m not responsible. I’ve sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and I need to confess that.
This morning, though, at the beginning of Holy Week and after yet another act of violence in the news, the confession was first person plural, “we have erred and strayed from thy ways…” It felt like a gift to be able to ask forgiveness, not just for me, though certainly me too, but for the collective brokenness of humanity. I was gifted to be able to ask for God’s grace for the church both past and present and for all those who aren’t able, or refuse to ask.
On Good Friday, many of us will pray a long litany of repentance. Some of that litany will apply to us individually, and some will not. Regardless, it’s possible for our collective confession to be no less real, and no less personal, than an individual one as we lift the collective brokenness of our world to God.
Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone the things we ought to have done, and done the things we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders. Spare though them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we might hereafter, lead a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.”