Two days from now, the festive feast days of Epiphany will give way to the somber season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. We are invited to reflect on God’s great love and mercy in sending Jesus Christ to reconcile us to God and to one another, through the forgiveness of sin, giving to us the gifts of life and salvation.
The appointed Psalm for Ash Wednesday, March 2, is Psalm 51:1-17. While some Psalms speak about God, this penitential Psalm is an intimate prayer to God. The prayer has been understood as David’s words of repentance after the prophet Nathan had confronted him about his adultery. Yet the words can be our own, too; we can add our own petitions to the prayer, and be assured that God’s mercy is greater than our sin. Consider raising your own penitential pleas to God, ‘in between the lines’ of Scripture, as part of your Lenten devotion.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
And even as I praise you for your mercy,
deliver me from demanding your judgment for others.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
Amen, Lord. And even, and especially, the sins I am so ashamed of,
The ones that I am afraid to confess to you,
The ones I think are too bad for you to forgive.
Yes, even these.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
My sin is ever before me, except when it isn’t.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
Remind me that each human
is created uniquely and
wondrously in your image.
When I sin against a person, I sin against you.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
Ah, Lord. We wrestle with this notion of ‘original sin.’
It is true that by ourselves we are wholly unable to fear, love,
and trust in you above all things.
It is true that before there was any sin,
there was original goodness.
You looked at us and all creation and called us very good.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Jesus said “I am the truth.”
You desire Jesus in my inward being!
Come, Lord Jesus!
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
And save me from the pervasive false metaphor that
equates ‘whiteness’ with goodness, purity, righteousness.
Open my heart to your presence in darkness as well.
For to you, darkness is as light.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
You who knit me together in my mother’s womb,
You who joined the scattered dry bones in Ezekiel’s wilderness,
Make me whole again.
Give me a joy that is deeper than happiness.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Let me trust in the words of absolution:
“God has put away all your sins.”
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Let my body be a proper dwelling place for your Spirit.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Or else I will die.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
You alone are the holy one.
You alone are Lord.
You alone are the most high.
You are God, and I am not.
Thank you for that!
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
I will teach them that you are
gracious and merciful,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
Save me from the time of trial.
Jesus’s blood was shed.
It is enough.
Keep me from harming another.
Deliver me from evil.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
Alleluias will rise from my inward parts.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Shows of righteousness do not impress you.
These forty days,
let my prayers
Be done in secret
from gratitude and from awe
that you love
Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
(Collect for Ash Wednesday, from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 26)