Do you remember hearing anyone asking, back around the middle of February, if you had “gotten shriven yet?” The 3-day pre-Lent season of “Shrovetide” and the custom of “getting shriven” then, are forgotten customs most everywhere. Once in a while you might hear of “Shrove Tuesday.”
“Shrive” and “shrove” go back to the Latin work “scribere,” which has tumbled down to us through Old German and Old English as scribe, shrift, scrivener, script, or in description and prescription. It means something is written down.
But “Shrovetide” and “shriven” denote a perversion of what was originally scripted. For hundreds of years during the Middle Ages, going to the priest for confession was pretty much a matter of compulsion. And then, instead of the penitent receiving a full pardon as scripted in the Holy Scriptures, he received a prescription of tasks to be performed, in order for the absolution to be valid. To “get shriven” was to go to confession and receive such a conditional and uncertain absolution.
Of all Christian congregations in the world today, well over half of them still officially teach that such prescriptions are necessary. And in the rest of them, many members believe that something still has to be done “by us” in order to make God more willing to forgive us.
Written In The Book Of Life
Some Lutherans think that way. Perhaps even you feel that you have to do something, in order to change God’s attitude towards you! And you might even have your very own list or “prescription” — trying to get yourself shriven by yourself! The flesh leans strongly in favor of doing this. In the Middle Ages they harnessed it and mandated it!
Back in the 16th century Martin Luther soon discovered that what was scripted in what he called “Die Heilige Schrift” had been nullified for centuries! The Gospel clearly teaches that the Lamb of God takes away all the sins of the world, full and free. Nothing remains to be paid for or worked off, by you or anyone else. It is written! But few taught or believed it any more.
“Holy Script” tells all believers that you are now part of “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven”! (Heb. 12:23) You can say that you are among those “whose names are written in the Book of Life” (Php. 4:3), and among those who “are in the Lamb’s Books of Life” (Rev. 21:27). You are shriven there, by God, in the Word!
Our Lutheran Confessions show that to be in Christ means to be written up in the Book of Life, inscribed there. Christ did all work necessary for your salvation. It is also scripted what works we gladly and freely do upon becoming believers in Jesus. Ephesians chapter 2, verses 8 through 10, clearly spells it all out for us. God prepared our salvation beforehand, plus a prescription for service. It is all a gift, not a bit of it our doing. It is all down in writing for you to see and believe. For you are shriven!
“Rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Lk. 10:20).
–Pastor Warren Fanning