Luther writes in the Large Catechism:
"Christ himself has entrusted absolution to his Christian church and commanded us to absolve one another from sins. So if there is a heart that feels its sin and desires consolation, it has here a sure refuge when it hears in God's Word that through a fellow human being, God absolves a person from sin."
My teenager blew it the other day. In a very big way. One of those bad moves that come back to haunt now and then for years. Typical teenage stunt, maybe, but not acceptable. For better and for worse, the parent of the offended party called to yell at the both of us! Gotta love those phone calls, late at night, right in the middle of a sleepover.
Sleepover was over! I drove everyone home at 11pm. On the way back home, a simple question was asked by my teenager: "Mom, why aren't you yelling at me?" The simple truth was that this wasn't one of those "Mom is freaking out!" times. No, this time I knew my child would be answering to friends, classmates and others for weeks (or maybe a couple of years). What good would screaming do? I could see that my child was very sorry, very ashamed and very worried about the consequences.
Another reason I wasn't yelling was that I sensed a real opportunity to proclaim the gospel. The sin had been sudden and emotion-based. At the realization of the pain caused to another, hopelessness was setting in. We are all tempted by such things and how, if we do not cling to the cross daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, we will eventually fall to our sin nature from time to time. I cannot be the judge of anyone's heart, but it seemed to me that my child was seeing sin nature clearly and with great fear.
Do you know someone who is just so darn happy to go to church each Sunday? Chances are that person is so thankful because of the knowledge of their sin nature, the certainty of eternal punishment for sin and their thankfulness that God provided substitution for their death because of sin. It is not the "perfect" appearing people who are so thankful for their salvation, but the sinners.
I shared that God had provided for our family a pastor and that he could lead anyone in private confession and absolution. My child's face brightened! I had expected a resounding, "No!", but instead the opportunity born of scripture was welcomed. The next evening, we headed to church for a short reconcilliation with the involved parties, mediated by our pastor, and then I waited in the lobby while my child received something I've never received before: private confession and absolution. The peace in my child's heart afterward was self-evident. Here is the suggested script for this act of love through Jesus...
The following order from Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal may be used when someone seeks the ministry of a pastor or other fellow Christian to make personal confession.
In the name of our God, to whom all hearts are open and from whom no secrets are hidden. Amen.
Minister and Penitent:
O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy, and in your faithfulness, come to my relief. Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I life up my soul Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.
Almightly God, merciful Father, I, a troubled and repentant sinner, confess that I have sinned against you in my thoughts, my words and my actions. I have not loved you with my whole heart. I have not loved others as I should. I am distressed by the sins that trouble me and am deeply sorry for them. (here the penitent may confess specific sins)
Jesus says to his people, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven." His death paid for the guilt of your sins and the sins of the whole world. Do you believe this?
Yes, I believe.
Because of the promise of our Savior Jesus, I forgive you all your sins. Be assured that you are a dear child of God and an heir of eternal life.
Minister and Penitent:
O Lord, my God, I called to you for help, and you answered me. I thank you for the love you have shown me in Jesus Christ, my Savior. Through him you have rescued me from the guilt of my sin and given me the peace of forgiveness. Help me fight against temptation, correct whatever wrongs I can, and serve you and those around me with love and good works. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.
Go in peace. The Lord be with you.