Why does the Pastor forgive our sins? What is absolution?
Because that is his job. A pastor, as a minister of the Gospel, is responsible to proclaim forgiveness full and free for repentant sinners because of Jesus. The pastor does not have the right to deny forgiveness to those who confess and repent of their sins. To not proclaim this forgiveness after we have all confessed our sin is to deny it by omission. It does us no good to admit we are sinners and in need of grace if there is no grace for us to receive. The forgiveness given to us by the Pastor completes this introductory rite to worship by giving us a profound picture of Christian faith: Man is a sinner (the Law), but Christ is our Savior (the Gospel). Our hearts are so prone to forget this and get back on the treadmill of trying to please God and earn his favor that is crucial to have this reminder at the beginning of every worship service that forgiveness is both full and free in Christ. Everything we do in worship confesses something. The confession of sin is where we admit our (ongoing) need for Christ and His grace, and in the absolution, the Pastor confesses the goodness of God in delighting to show mercy, assuring us that the “broken and contrite heart I will not cast out.” The absolution is given for the comfort of sinners burdened with a guilty conscience. This ought to include all Christians, if they believe the words of God’s law and understand how far we fall short of the life that God calls us to live. We like to talk about our “personal relationship with God,” but we must always remember that healthy relationships are impossible without forgiveness. When we fail to fear, love, and trust in God as we ought, this is an expression of unbelief. Since faith is the foundation of our relationship with God, we need to have this doubt between us dealt with. When we are absolved of our sins, God is proclaiming that our unbelief does not stand in the way of His unconditional love for us, in order that our faith might be strengthened. We will explore Absolution and the Pastor’s role in it more next week.
From the Small Catechism: On the Third Article of the Creed: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.