Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
my sin is always right in front of me.
I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
completely correct when you issue your judgment.
Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
from the moment my mother conceived me.
And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.
Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins;
wipe away all my guilty deeds!
Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways,
and sinners will come back to you.
Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation,
so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness.
Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
You don’t want sacrifices.
If I gave an entirely burned offering,
you wouldn’t be pleased.
A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.
You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed. (Common English Bible)
Ash Wednesday is an ancient holy day on the Church Calendar. It marks the beginning of the season of Lent—a time of penitence, discipline, and renewal.
We are reminded of our mortality, we confess our sins, and we experience forgiveness through Christ’s death and resurrection. The “imposition of ashes” is a central part of Ash Wednesday observances, whereby the penitent worshiper receives ashes on the forehead in the sign of the cross.
In Holy Scripture, ashes serve both as a symbol of mortality and as a sign of mourning and repentance. But neither sin nor death is the final word. So, we also have confidence and gratitude that Christ has conquered death, and nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus, our Lord.
Today, on this Ash Wednesday, the appropriate posture of the devout Christian is prayer. Specifically, prayers of confession of our great and many sins, shortcomings, and moral failures.
This might sound negative and a major downer. Yet, to not look evil square in the face and call it out for what it is, is at best denial, and at the worst allowing a bitter seed of unforgiveness to gestate in the depths of your soul.
It seems to me there is no better way to confront the darkness within than with using the ancient prayer book of the Old Testament Psalms. I encourage you to pray Psalm 51 out loud and slowly, with a generous amount of emotional flavor – even, and especially, if you don’t feel like it.
Pray the ancient psalm over more than once, and perhaps several times punctuated throughout the day today. In doing so, you will be joining the faithful across this entire big world who today offer to God a prayer of subversion against the blackness on this earth.
Holy God, as the season now turns to Lent, we pray that you will guide us in the days ahead. As we journey with Jesus, give us an abiding sense of your presence, an unguarded sense of ourselves, and an awareness of the needs of this world.
Loving God, as we are marked with the ashes of earth, we bring before you the frailty of our very human lives: our fragile health; the uncertainty of our plans; the changing nature of our relationships. Grant us patience in suffering and healing from our ills. Give us, in equal measure, humility and hope in our pursuits. Bind us in love that is constant, yet able to change according to the needs and circumstances before us.
Just God, you call us to action; to bring freedom to the oppressed; to care for those in need; to lift the burdens of others. We ask you to increase our courage and our will to work for the peace you envision and desire. We pray for an end to warfare and conflict, accepting our call to be peacemakers. We pray for an end to hunger and homelessness, knowing we are called to share with others and show hospitality. We pray for an end to false righteousness, evil speech, and shallow faith in our lives, in the church, in our public life, and among all the nations.
Eternal God, we pray your kingdom will come in fullness; that what is perishable will be raised imperishable; that death itself will be swallowed up in victory; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.