Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51:1-17

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

Ash Wednesday commemorates the beginning of the 40 days of Lent, during which Christians remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and recall his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness.  Ash Wednesday, in particular, is a time when the church is called to repentance and to acknowledge the fleeting nature of human life.  Common practices include the smearing of ashes on one’s forehead as a sign of penitence and mourning, and the initiation of 40 days of fasting (from meat, traditionally).

Lent is not intended as a time to remember sins of the past (unless they are unrepentant ones), or to dredge up things that have already been confessed to God.  However, it is a time to reflect on our still-marred state, repent of any ongoing sin that has not yet been purged from our lives, and give thanks for God’s mercy.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it very hard to repent; to say that I am sorry and to press on, through the help of the Spirit, toward new life.  To make a u-turn away from self toward God.

This morning, as Sarah and I were getting the kids dressed for school, our son (2) began to throw a full on tantrum, because he didn’t want to get dressed. After trying to calm him and give him some space, the tantrum continued, and I gave him a warning that discipline would follow if he didn’t change his actions.  As the tantrum escalated to all new levels, I followed through on my warning and disciplined him.  After allowing this all to sink in, I sat with him, told him that I love him, and explained why he was disciplined.  I then asked for him to tell me he was sorry.  He looked at me, and said “No!”.

I put him in time out and told him that I would return in a few minutes after he had a chance to reconsider.  He then launched into a tantrum even worse than the first.  I returned to him a second time, explained that I love him and why he was in time out, and then asked him to apologize.  Once again, he refused and I returned him to time out for a third round.

When I returned to him the next time, I again explained that I love him, why he was being disciplined, and asked him to apologize.  This time, he nodded his head and said “sorry”.  To my great relief, he then hugged me, and we resumed our morning.

Now, I tell you this story, not because I think I am like God and that my son needed to repent.  I tell you this to illustrate just how hard it can be to own up to our mistakes, even to a Father who loves us beyond measure.

I love my son and I want only what is best for him.  I don’t like to discipline him, but I do it for his own good, so that he learns what is right and good; to set him on a path for a successful life lived as a testimony to God’s goodness and grace.  Likewise, God disciplines his children and calls us to repentance when we have strayed.  He calls us to remember who we are, created in his image, and teaches us to live in the light of his righteousness and love.

When I put on ashes this morning, when I fast during Lent, when I carry on conversation with God in prayer, I expect there to be painful moments.  I expect to be corrected.  I expect to feel ashamed for the sinfulness that still shows in me on occasion.  But I also expect that my Father in Heaven will continue to remind me: “I love you.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

As we reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, may we find mercy and love at the foot of his cross.  My sin put him there . . . Forgive me Father . . . His blood covers me.

Thanks be to God!

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