It is the second specific healing story in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:40-45). A leper falls before Jesus, expressing faith that Jesus can restore him. Moved with compassion, Jesus does so with a touch and a word: “Be cleansed.” Jesus then directs the cured man to show himself to the priest and to make an offering as Moses commanded. Jesus was referring to the ritual prescribed in Leviticus 14:1-32, an elaborate ceremony by which a healed leper was certified to be cleansed — both from the disease and from the stigma that had isolated him from the covenant community. What a thrill it must have been for such a former outcast to hear the priest “pronounce him clean” (Lev. 14:7) and then officially to “present” him back to God and to the people (v. 11).
This came to my mind last Thursday while visiting my cardiologist after spending the previous weekend in a California hospital following an episode of atrial fibrillation. The cardiologist reviewed the records and test results from California, did an examination and EKG, examined me and gave his opinions. The California physicians performed excellently, he said. I did not need to continue a drug they had prescribed for heart rhythm. Baby aspirin is a good idea. “Am I okay to resume normal activities?” I asked. You are well, he told me. Rejoin the community. Suddenly, with that word, I felt much better. No procedure, no injection, no medication. Just a word: “You are fit to resume life.”
This trail of thought brought to mind the ancient custom, retained today in many Christian traditions, of confessing sin and hearing a pronouncement of forgiveness. Some Christians (Catholics and Anglicans) put more emphasis on the ecclesiastical lineage of the person pronouncing the declaration of forgiveness than others (Lutherans and Methodists, for example) but the final point is the same. As a congregation, we confess that we have sinned. Then, in the name of Jesus Christ, a representative of the faith community declares that we are forgiven. We hear that word of absolution and we feel clean as well as believe that we are clean. It is a wholesome event (John 20:20-23; Matt. 18:15-20).
If something like this is not a part of your own regular experience, you might wish to look at a series of short responsive readings from Scripture which I have prepared for congregational use. Each set includes three parts: a word of confession, a pronouncement of forgiveness and a word of thanks and praise. These readings fit well before the Lord’s Supper or perhaps near the beginning of a worship assembly. You will find them here. Feel free to use them to the glory of God. Let’s hear it: You are forgiven!