Along with many another, I've been pondering the public reaction to the prayer of penitence during that wedding last week. I suspect that popular sensibilities, shaped by a throw away culture where things are better disposed of than mended and "love means never having to say you are sorry", simply find the whole idea of acknowledging a painful past abhorrent. Better to pretend that it has never been, rather than give it a long hard look and seek help, from whatever source, to make a fresh start…
The trouble is, of course, that this never really works.
Each of us is the sum of our past experiences, good or bad, and so hurts and disappointments lurk, waiting to trip us up at our most vulnerable moments. That's why it's so wonderful to be able to confront them, knowing that they are part of the person you are, and then allow yourself to be loved despite them. Surely it's an essential part of the process of beginning a new life with another person, to accept that they know all about you, and still choose to love you.
But, if seeing yourself and your relationships clearly is important as we move through of rites of passage, then I've been guilty in the past year of depriving people of this opportunity. Whether from kindness or cowardice, I tend not to use the penitential material included in the Common Worship Funeral service. Somehow it has almost always felt too heavy, when the mourners are at best agnostic. In my anxiety to be "pastoral" I've majored on the fact that nothing can separate us from God’s love, without allowing time to pause and consider those elements of the past that might make this specially welcome news. When we meet with mourners, there is so much that we cannot “make better”, and in simple human terms this includes damaged relationships. To be truly reassuring, words of forgiveness need to be spoken by the one voice that is now silent. With only an hour’s visit, it feels hard to probe beyond the non-negotiable fact of a life that has ended, and it can be difficult even to glean the details of that life to make the service real for those who attend. Not surprising, then, that I hesitate to suggest that there might be things to regret, but that there is still something to be done. That it’s not too late, after all.
I need to get over this, though, don’t I? I’m only involved at all because I represent a hope beyond the simply human. One of the final nudges towards ordination for me was a conversation with someone who badly needed to hear that her past was behind her, that a fresh start was possible. I hated the feeling, then, that I lacked the Church’s authority to speak the absolution she craved…I guess I need to remember her, as I knock on the door for the next funeral visit.