Wednesday, 1 March 2017

A Modern English Commination Service & Why Commination

or Denouncing of God's Anger and Judgement against Sinners

The Greeting
We begin by greeting one another

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

A hymn may be sung.

Words of introduction
The practice of commination is introduced

In the Primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, anyone who was convicted of a notorious sin was put to open and public penance.  They were punished here and now, in this life, that their souls might be saved when the Day of the LordJudgement Daycomes.  It was hoped that everybody else, seeing this punishment, would seriously think again before following the way of sin.
      Until such a practice can again be restoredand this is something we should hope forit is good that you should all hear the general sentences of God's cursing against sinners who refuse to repent.  These Biblical curses are from, among other places, Deuteronomy 27. After a moment to reflect would you respond to each curse by saying 'amen'.  We do this now to remind ourselves of how great God's disgust and anger towards sinners is.  We hope that we will be moved to intense and true repentance; that we would walk all the more warily in these dark and dangerous days; that we would flee from the sin and evil we here state we understand God so hates and curses.

God's Curses proclaimed
cf. Deuteronomy 27; Jeremiah 17.5;
1 Corinthians 6.9-10; and Galatians 5.19-21
The person who makes a carved idol or cast image, which is detestable to the Lord, and then worships it is cursed.
The one who dishonours his father or mother is cursed.
The one who moves his neighbour's boundary marker is cursed.
The one who leads a blind person astray on the road is cursed.
The one who denies justice to a foreigner, a fatherless child, or a widow is cursed.
The one who does anything sexually immoral is cursed.
The one who secretly kills his neighbour is cursed.
The one who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person is cursed.
The one who trusts in mankind, who makes human flesh his strength and turns his heart from the Lord is cursed.
Those who are unmerciful, the sexually immoral, adulterers, greedy persons, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards, and extortionists, are cursed.
Anyone who does not put the words of the law into practice is cursed.

Application and Exhortation
The importance of these curses today is explained

Given that all who go astray and break God's commandments are so cursed; let usremembering the dreadful judgement hanging over our heads which could fall on us at any momentturn back to our Lord God, with all remorse and humbleness of heart.  Let us grieve and lament our sinful life, acknowledge and confess our offences.  Let us seek to bring forth worthy fruits of repentance. For now is the axe put to the root of the trees, so that every tree that doesn't bear good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire.  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God: He shall pour down rain upon the sinners, snares, fire and brimstone, storm and tempest; this shall be their portion to drink.

For behold, the Lord has come out of His place to visit the wickedness of humanity. Who can possibly survive the day of His coming? Who could possibly endure when He appears? His broom is in His hand, and He will purge His floor. He will gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. The day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. When men say "Peace" and when all things seem safe: then shall sudden destruction come upon them, just like pain comes upon a woman in childbirth.   They shall not escape.   Then shall appear the wrath of God in the day of vengeance.  Obstinate sinners, through the stubbornness of their hearts, have heaped upon their own heads this wrath from God.  They did this by despising His goodness, His patience, and  His long suffering.   When God called  them time and time again to repentance they ignored Him.

So God says: "They shall call upon me but I will not hear; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me; this is all because they hated knowledge, they didn't fear the Lord.  Instead they were disgusted at my counsel, and they despised my correction. It shall be too late to knock because the door shall be already shut.  It will be too late to cry for mercy because it will be the time for justice."  What a terrible voice of most just judgement shall be pronounced upon them!  It shall be said to them, "Go, you cursed, into the everlasting fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels." 

Therefore, my brothers and sisters in Christ, take notice right now, while the day of salvation lasts!  The night is coming, the night when none can work and nothing can change.   Let us, while we have the light, believe in the light. Let us walk as children of the light so that we are not cast into utter darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Let us not abuse the goodness of God, who calls us mercifully to change our ways.  In His endless pity He promises us forgiveness of that which is past, but only if with a perfect and true heart we return unto him. For though our sins be as red as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; and though they be like purple, yet they shall be made white as wool.  The Lord says, "Turn from all your wickedness, and your sin shall not be your destruction: Cast away from you all your ungodliness that you have done.  Make your hearts and spirits new. Why will you die, O house of Israel, when you know that I have no pleasure in your death?"

 Turn thenrepentand you shall live.  Although we have sinned, yet we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins.  He was pierced for our transgressions, and stuck down for our offences. Given this wonderful grace, let us return to Christ Jesus.  He mercifully receives all truly repentant sinners.  We must always remind and assure ourselves that He is indeed ready to welcome us back home.  He is most willing to pardon us.  But all of this, again, is only if we come back to Him with faithful repentance; if we submit ourselves to him, and from this point on set ourselves to walk in His ways. 

We are forgiven if we will take His easy yoke, if we replace the heavy burden of our sins with the light burden He offers usfollowing Him in lowliness, patience, and love. We must seek to be ordered by the governance of the Holy Spirit.  We must always seek His glory and His alone whilst serving Him appropriately in our vocation with thanksgiving.  If we do these things, Christ will deliver us from the curse of the law.  He will deliver us from the extreme judgment which shall come upon those sinners that shall be set to His left; and He will set us on His right, giving us the gracious blessing of His Father whilst commanding us to take possession of His glorious kingdom.  The Kingdom which in His infinite mercy He has promised to bring to all of us who truly repent and believe His Holy Gospel.  Amen.

The Penitential Psalm
Psalm 51 is said or sung

All kneel

Be gracious to me, God,
according to Your faithful love;
according to Your abundant compassion,
blot out my rebellion.
Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.
For I am conscious of my rebellion,
and my sin is always before me.
Against You
You aloneI have sinned
and done this evil in Your sight.
So You are right when You pass sentence;
You are blameless when You judge.
Indeed, I was guilty when I was born;
I was sinful when my mother conceived me.
Surely You desire integrity in the inner self,
and You teach me wisdom deep within.
Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones You have crushed rejoice.
Turn Your face away
 from my sins
and blot out all my guilt.
God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast
 spirit within me.
Do not banish me from Your presence
or take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore the joy of Your salvation to me,
and give me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways,
and sinners will return to You.
Save me from the guilt of bloodshed, God,
the God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing of Your righteousness.
Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare Your praise.
You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it;
You are not pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifice pleasing to God is
 a broken spirit.
God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart.
In Your good pleasure, cause Zion to prosper;
 the walls of Jerusalem.
Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on Your altar.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

The Prayers
We pray for ourselves and the church

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name,
Your kingdom come, Your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are Yours
now and for ever.   Amen.
O Lord, save Your servants;
That put their trust in You.
Send them help from above;
And mightily defend them for all eternity.
Help us, O God our Saviour;
And for the glory of Your Name deliver us,  be merciful to us sinners, for Your Name's sake.
O Lord, hear our prayer;
And let our cry come unto You.

A prayer for absolution
Lord, we beg You, in Your mercy hear our prayers, and spare all those who confess their sins to You; so that those whose consciences by sin are accused may by Your merciful pardon be absolved and set free, through Christ our Lord.   Amen.

A prayer for pardon
Most mighty God, and merciful Father, who has compassion upon all people, and  who hates nothing that You have made; who does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that they would turn from their wickedness and be saved: Mercifully forgive us our sins; receive and comfort us who are grieved and wearied with the burden sin places upon us. Your nature is always to have mercy and only You can ever forgive sin. Spare us  good Lord, spare Your peoplethose You have redeemed and enter not into judgement with Your servants, who are nothing but vile earth and miserable sinners. Instead, turn Your righteous anger from us, who humbly acknowledge our sinful vileness, and truly repent of our faults.  Come quickly to help us in this world, that we may live with You forever in the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord.    Amen.

A prayer for conversion and restoration
Change us, good Lord, and we shall be changed. Look with favour on Your people; who turn to You now in weeping, fasting, and praying. For You are a merciful God, full of compassion, longsuffering, and of great pity. You spare us when we deserve punishment.  Even in Your wrath You think of mercy. Spare Your people for You are good,  let not Your heritage be brought to disaster.  Hear us, O Lord, for Your mercy is great.  After all Your countless mercies look upon us Your children; through the merits and mediation of Your blessed Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

A hymn may be sung.

The Lord bless us, and keep us; the Lord lift up the light of His face to shine upon us, and give us peace, now and for evermore.   Amen.

Why Commination?

What is the purpose of the service of Commination?  Why is it an important service?  What does it teach?  Why should we still do it in the 21st century?

These are good questions about a service that can make some people today feel rather uncomfortable.  Today most of us are used to services of 'ashing' at the start of Lent.  The Reformers, however,  ditched this ritual as early as 1549 and it did not return to Anglicanism till the Ritualist movement came to prominence in the 19th Century.  It is my belief that Commination is a powerful, relevant, and Gospel centred service that presents Biblical teaching on God, humanity, eternity, and the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Commination literally means the action of threatening divine vengeance or as the service itself explains:  a denouncing of Gods anger and judgements against sinners.”  The idea of God being angry may make us uncomfortable, but it is very Biblical.  Gods anger or wrath at sin and sinners is mentioned around 600 times in the Bible.  The most frequently mentioned attribute of God is His complete Holiness.  Because God is Holy, He cannot stand to be near sinHe hates and despises it.  Importantly, Scripture does not say hate the sin, love the sinnerthat was Ghandi.  God is perfectly just, we are all sinners, we all deserve judgement and the death penalty because as Saint Paul said the wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23).  That the service of Commination is based in the Bible can be seen by the over 75 verses of Scripture that it quoteswith many more alluded to.

In his worship song Here I am to Worship Tim Hughes wrote these lyrics Ill never know how much it cost, to see my sin upon that cross.  This is the essence of the teaching of the Commination serviceuntil we understand Gods hatred of sin, and all He had to overcome to restore us to a right relationship with Him, we will never know how much He loves us.  Commination begins by displaying Gods anger and judgement against sin.  Importantly though, even at the beginning, it says that Gods anger and judgement is only a curse against those who refuse to repentit is only those who dont repent to Jesus who face such judgement.  For the next part of the service the curses of Scripture are read, and like the 10 commandments, we are all guilty of breaking them.  Explaining that the Day of the LORD is comingjudgement daythe service compels the believer to fear God and turn away from sin and not to despise His goodness, His patience, and His long-suffering. 

Boldly the service proclaims that through Jesus there is forgiveness of any sins For though our sins be as red as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; and though they be like purple, yet they shall be made white as wool.”  It declares Jesus to be on our side Although we have sinned, yet we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus the Righteous; and He is the propitiation of our sins Propitiation is a word which means the removing of wrath against sinners.  We are then reassured that Christ is ready to receive us whenever we come to Him in humility, no matter what we have done or how many times we have done it: (Jesus is) most willing to pardon us, if we come to Him with faithful repentance.

Scripture teaches that everyone has sinned (except Jesus) and not only that, but that we are all depraved 26 verses of Scripture declare that even from conception all of us are lost and our hearts are inclined to evil, even from conception we are all in desperate need of a Saviour.  Indeed, we are so lost that of our own power and choice we would never seek out God None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God (Romans 3.10-11).  If we are ever to truly get right with God, to make progress in our faith and discipleship, to be moulded by the Holy Spirit into the likeness of Christ, we must first look in the mirror, deeply, and recognise how fallen we are.  We are far worse than we like to imagine but Jesus is far stronger than we could ever hope.  This is why towards the end the Commination service declares "spare Your peoplethose You have redeemedand enter not into judgement with Your servants, who are nothing but vile earth and miserable sinners. Instead, turn Your righteous anger from us, who humbly acknowledge our sinful vileness, and truly repent us of our faults."  Also worthy of note is that it is not by our own doing that we are saved, we are not saved by good works or keeping The Law.  We are saved by the grace of God: "Through the merits and mediation of Your blessed Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

As I hope you can see, the service of Commination, though an uncomfortable one, is full of the Good News of Jesus. It is designed to, at the start of Lent (or at other times), bring us to our knees, to acknowledge our sinfulness, to fall on the mercy of God and not our own strength, to see the judgement against sin and so be encouraged to fight valiantly against it, and to know the assurance of forgiveness through Christ.  This message is more relevant than ever and just as important as the day it was written.

This service was modernised by the Reverend Adam C. Young from the 1662 BCP and is accompanied by his short explanation of the service: 'why commination'. 

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