The proper title for this is “The Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness.” You may have noticed that this rite sits at the very beginning of our worship. In fact, as it happens before the opening hymn, it sits “outside” of our worship. This reflects an older understanding of confession as something that takes place before you come to Communion. In the medieval church [and this continues in portions of the Roman Catholic Church], one was to confess and receive absolution [forgiveness] prior to coming for Communion. While Protestants [including Lutherans] struggled with some of the abuses that arose around the acts of Confession and Absolution, Lutherans in particular were not able to completely do away with some form of confession.
Historically, this act has popped around in various places of Lutheran worship preceding Holy Communion. [It was, at one time, between the sermon and the Creed, the general place you will find something similar in Episcopal worship.] Finally, these places were deemed disruptive and the act was moved to the front of our time together, before the opening hymn, before the beginning of worship proper.
It should be noted that the emphasis of the rite are the words of forgiveness [absolution] on the part of the pastor. Admittedly, we are not able to grasp in its entirety, the breadth of our sinful selves in the brief time of the Order. Yet, in this brief moment, we are to grasp the contradictory sense of our very nature, “… we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” It is, actually, one of the more startling things we say out loud. These words, more than anything we can admit to, are intended to help shape our self-understanding.
The second portion of the Order is intended to be as startling as the first. We are declared free by the work of Jesus Christ. We are to grasp that we are set free by Jesus to become the people God imagines us to be. It is one of the most powerful things any one human can say to another. If we really believe this, really live this, it has the power to not only transform our lives, it changes the world.