What comes to mind when you hear “remission”? Most of us probably think of cancer. When cancer is in “remission,” it isn’t active, but we don’t know, it might still be there. If someone is “in remission,” as we say, for a number of years, then we don’t expect the cancer to come back. So we think of “remission” as something in the background, perhaps temporarily defeated, perhaps more than temporarily—but there, probably, as an ongoing threat.
If, however, you are a Rite One person, you might think, instead of cancer, of “one baptism” which, according to the Nicene Creed in the traditional language, is “for the remission of sins.” Here the word “remission” must mean something quite different from the way we use the word with cancer.
Its root is mittere, the Latin word meaning “to send, to cause to go.” The prefix “re-” means “again” or “back.” The Creed’s assertion is about the “sending back” of sins, the “causing to go away” of sins. When sins are remitted they aren’t around any more. They’re not like cancer, which might still be there; nor is a sinner “in remission,” in some sort of in-between, maybe-okay state. The sins have been turned around and discharged: they ain’t here.
It’s a bit old-fashioned, but we do sometimes speak of money that is sent to pay a bill as a “remittance.” When the remittance is sent, the debt no longer exists. Indeed, there is biblical warrant for speaking of sins as “debts,” and some versions of the Lord’s prayer have it so: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” May it please God to remit all our sins!
May I be playful for a bit? When we see the word “remission,” there’s “mission” in it. And there’s “mission” in God’s own being. The Father sends the Son into the world with his mission: in order that the world might be saved. And the sacrifice being accomplished, the Father through the Son sends the Spirit whose mission is to speak of what the Son has done.
God’s mission is what we can participate in: and we may do so when we plant churches, instruct believers, build communities of forgiveness and truth, seek the healing of the world. In these ways we join in the divine mission to overcome sin, to remit it, to banish it, to send it away.
We thereby partake of the “re-missioning” of the world: to turn the world from its false mission (the advancement of sin) to its true one.
Out & About. I will be preaching at Incarnation in Dallas on December 2. The “Good Books & Good Talk” seminar will not meet in December; on January 13 (Sunday, 6 p.m.) I will lead a discussion of C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. This also is at Incarnation and anyone who reads the book is welcome.
Looking further ahead: the spring theology lecture by yours truly will be on the theology of suffering. We pray it will not be a painful experience! Sunday, March 24, at Incarnation at 6 p.m.