–by Jennifer Phelps Ollikainen

Whenever I realize that I’ve done something wrong, particularly something that impacted some­one I know and love, I feel the weight of it. My body feels heavy, and I usually can’t think of any­thing else until I make it right in some way. It’s worse when some­one else points out my misdeed before I come to realize it. Some­times I try to hide from the whole thing. Sometimes I confess and apologize. Always I seek relief from the burden.


Most Sundays we gather for wor­ship and Holy Communion using well-worn and familiar words to declare our shared shortcomings: “We have sinned against [God] in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone…” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 95)

Rooted in the promises of baptism, we boldly confess before God, in community with others who are also burdened by hidden mistakes and sins. We hear the presiding minister proclaim God’s mercy. We receive forgiveness again and again. Together, with the body of Christ, our burdens lift. We are free to worship with the joy of grace-filled hearts.


How do we begin our corporate confession? With an invocation: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This invocation grounds us in the triune name of God—the name in which we are baptized. Before we say any other word, we are assured of the presence of the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Together we acknowledge that we are in the presence of God, who created us, redeemed us and is with us still. I recall that this is the name into which I am baptized. To those who are not yet baptized, the invocation speaks the name of the One who is present, who calls them into grace and hope.


Often I imagine that I am alone in my mistakes, or that I can keep the fact that I sin a secret. But it’s no secret that everyone sins, from the tiny child who is new to faith to the teenager discovering his or her gifts and struggles to the eldest worshiper who has made this con­fession for thousands of Sundays.

While it’s tempting to consider confession a private and personal act, the practice of our tradition is to confess publicly. Silently and in my own thoughts, I consider my personal sin, yet I do so shoulder to shoulder with the people next to me. We confess together with the whole body of Christ. As my voice joins those of my neighbors, I stand in witness to the confession of every person in the room, even if I do not know the particulars.

I join with the entire body of Christ, seeing how we are con­nected across our frailties, mis­takes and vulnerability, linked by our common need to connect to the grace and salvation of Christ. Suddenly, my burden is shared across the shoulders of the whole community. And I, too, shoulder the burdens of those standing next to me.

This article is excerpted from the September 2018 issue of Gather magazine. To read the full story or more like it, subscribe to Gather.