‘Create in me a clean heart,’

It is no coincidence that Psalm 51 is appointed for Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of Lent. The psalmist’s words capture the depth of meaning of the 40 days leading up to Easter. Lent is that time of self-reflection and confession and acknowledging our need of God and God’s grace.

Psalm 51, is a plea to God, a prayer for forgiveness. The psalmist laments his sin and is clear that only God can deliver him. He wastes no time getting to the point, ‘Have mercy on me, O God,’ he says in verse 1, ‘wash,’ ‘blot out,’ ‘purge,’ me.

The psalmist is unequivocal that we all do things big or small that draw us away from God, and that hurt others. Confession is part of our regular church liturgy, but Lent is a more deliberate time of reflection and repentance and at its heart is a growing understanding of our dependence upon God.

I remember hearing this story told in church, of St Peter sitting at the pearly gates and a woman approaching him.

Peter says, “Tell me why I should let you in?”

“I have gone to church my whole life,” the woman says, but Peter reminds her that she has been unkind to some of the members of the church.

“Well,” she says, defensively, “I bought shopping every week for a couple of members”. Peter points out that she had on occasion used the member’s money to buy a couple of things for herself as well. The conversation continues like this and the woman becomes more and more defensive and distraught, clearly beginning to panic at the thought that she might not be allowed into heaven.

Finally, she falls to her knees in tears and desperation and says, “Forgive me Lord, for I have sinned”. Immediately, the pearly gates swing wide open and Peter says,” Welcome home, my child.”

This is not howeverthe end of the story.  There is a promise of recreation and redemption inherent in the psalm. That promise  recognises that God not only saves us, but also gives us new life. ‘Create in me a clean heart O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.’ Verse 10

Psalm 51 was of course written long before the birth, life and death of Jesus, yet the psalmist's lament for his sins and awareness of his need for God’s deliverance make this psalm so appropriate for the beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday. As we begin the season of self-reflection and repentance, we follow the psalmist’s example recalling how we have fallen short and how we are in need of salvation and deliverance that comes from God alone. It may seem to be all 'sackcloth and ashes' at the start of Lent, but we cling firm in faith to ther knowledge that we journey towards the hope of Good Friday and the promise of joy found on Easter Sunday.

May God bless you richly, as you seek to deepen your relationship with Jesus this Lenten tide.

Rev Julia

February 2018

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