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Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Today’s Reading | Psalm 51 

Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
   blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
   and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
   and my sin is ever before me.
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.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
   a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;
   therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
   wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
   let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
   and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
   and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
   and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
   and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
   and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
   O God of my salvation,
   and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

O Lord, open my lips,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
   if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
   rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
then you will delight in right sacrifices,
   in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;  
   then bulls will be offered on your altar. (NRSV)

Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has been played more than 65.5 million times on YouTube. Cohen’s song is a musical depiction of the relationship of King David and Bathsheba, coupled with other biblical allusions. For me, Buckley’s version musically depicts a sound and tone of penance, the giving over of a broken spirit. I return to “Hallelujah” every year at Lent. In ancient Judaism, mourning and brokenness were experienced through the ritual of wearing sackcloth and ashes spread upon the living body—a public acknowledgment of their grief. It is from this that part of our Ash Wednesday ritual derives.

Psalm 51 is King David’s plea to God after visiting Bathsheba. In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan comes to David to report to him that he, the king, has failed God. Have you ever experienced a space and time where you may have done less than what you know the Lord expects of you? I most certainly have, countless times. Many of the Bible characters that we consider “good” today have experienced this space in their lives: Abraham lying about his wife being his sister, Moses murdering a man out of anger, eleven brothers selling Joseph to the highest bidder, and King David looking out over his vast kingdom, seeing a woman bathing, and in the blink of an eye all that he is was forever changed.

It is a solid thing to remind ourselves, most especially during Lent, that all the people that we read about in scripture were fully human just like us. They were people with all of the same needs, emotions, troubles, and sinfulness that we have today. In our fullest humanity, this Lenten season we walk together with Jesus through the Gospel of Luke, bringing the penance of our whole hearts and truths to God.

God of mercy and steadfast love, through your will and your way, wash me, cleanse me, teach me, purge me, create in me, restore unto me, deliver me, and rebuild me! Amen.

Written by Mark Eldred, Worship Coordinator and Interim Director of Adult Education

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