Fall Upon Our Neck

From “Sermon 40: Concerning Seven Steps of Confession” (ca. 1150)

I know, Lord Jesus, that in baptism you have given back to us our first robe of innocence. And having been dressed in a snow-white cloak, placed on a throne of justice, we have quickly strayed from the way which you have show to us, and we squander the portion of inheritance that falls to us with the prodigal son in the region of unlikeness.  The most vile spirits and the kings of eternal fires came to us: the filthy to the clean, the damned to those to be saved, the crooked to the upright, and they said to our souls: bow down so that we may cross over. We heard them and we were bent down. They crossed through us and we lost innocence. If it is an offence to have lost, what do you think it will be if you do not even miss the loss?

When people lose something in the mortal life, they seek judges, call friends together, bring a lawsuit, leave no stone unturned, until they either find what is lost of restore what was taken away and preserve what is restored. We have lost our inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled and that cannot fade reserved in heaven by the cunning of that insatiable murderer, and we do not miss it? And he has made us bend down, and we do not rise up again?

Let us arise and go to our father and say to him, “Father we have sinned against heaven and before you.” And acting out the whole text of the gospel narrative; let us offer to the Father repentance of mind and contrition of heart so that perchance when we are yet a great way off, the Father might see us, and moved with compassion, and running, fall upon our neck, and let him kiss us with the kiss of his mouth.

Perhaps he shall order that the first robe of innocence be brought forth and order us to be clothed with the garments of virtue and to be given the ring of secrets on our hand and shoes to be foot on our feet in preparation for the gospel of peace. He shall perhaps order that the fatted calf be led forth and killed in satisfaction for those returning to the feast and to rejoice and to be led back to the joys of the heavenly city in music and dancing, where there shall be joy for God’s angels over one sinner doing penance.  We know, Lord Jesus, that you will not deprive of good things those who walk in innocence or those who walk in repentance.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was one of the most influential preachers and spiritual writers of the Middle Ages. An important leader in the Cistercian reform, he was abbot at Clairvaux and an important advisor to other church leaders. St. Bernard’s feast day is August 20. The translation used here is from Daniel Griggs, trans, Bernard of Clairvaux: Monastic Sermons (Athens, OH: Cistercian Publications, 2016).

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