Thomas Cranmer included these sentences from scripture in his original prayer book and they have become a part of the Anglican liturgical tradition ever since. They act as a scriptural warrant and guarantee of the forgiveness of sins. They reaffirm the absolution through biblical authority. What the priest says about our sins being forgiven is backed up by the scriptures. You don’t have to take the priest’s word for it but you can also “hear the word of God” spoken to you. Those who turn to Jesus are loved and forgiven.
Although these sentences may be said independently from each other they are written as a whole. They follow the biblical narrative of God and man. Our sin has caused us to be heavy laden. (Matthew 11:28) The Genesis account talks about the difficult labor that comes after the fall. (Genesis 3) When we try to live life without God we find that we are burdened and have no life in us. God does not leave us in this state. He loves us. He loves all that He created. (John 3:16) Jesus the only-begotten Son came to save sinners. He came to save those who want life back. (1 Timothy 1:15) Trusting and following the way of Jesus brings us back into a right relationship with the Father. Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. He is the relationship fixer. (1 John 2:1-2) Once we understand what Jesus has done for us we realize that He has done this for the whole world. We become people who proclaim the way of Jesus to the heavy laden of the world.
When read together these sentences encapsulate the Gospel message in a beautiful way. I hear these words and am reminded that Jesus is indeed good news! A tradition that I learned from my time at Trinity School for Ministry is to walk down the center aisle while reading the comfortable words. This is reminiscent of the way we read our Gospel accounts. We do this because the good news is always moving to reach the people. In the great commission Jesus tells his disciples to go to the people of the world and proclaim the Gospel. (Mark 16:15) The Gospel, the good news of Jesus, is always going forward.
THE COMFORTABLE WORDS
Hear the Word of God to all who truly turn to him.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. MATTHEW 11:28
God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. JOHN 3:16
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 TIMOTHY 1:15
If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 JOHN 2:1-2