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Psalm 51:1-14

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 only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the 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 broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.(ESV)

Have Mercy!

Ash Wednesday

10 February 2015

Part of my Lenten habit is to listen to a recording of Psalm 51, Miserere Mei, Deus , on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the beginning and end of Lent. The setting of the Miserere which I particularly like was written by an Italian composer, Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652) for the papal chapel choir. The music for this setting of Psalm 51 was carefully guarded by the choirmasters of the papal chapel over the years, and Allegri's setting of the Psalm was not published until the 18th century when a 14-year-old Mozart copied out the score from memory after hearing it sung on Good Friday while in Rome. I first heard the Psalm sung by the choristers of King's College Chapel. This year at Christmas a dear member gave me a recording of the Psalm by the papal choir of the Sistine Chapel.
 
In the Psalm, the first speech of the season is repentance. The dénouement of the season is repentance. Lent calls us to repent of our sins. The Lenten season is the story of Christ's taking those very sins and taking them away by his sacrificial death on the cross. For us Christians, repentance is the joyous response to the gospel proclamation that my sin has been atoned for by my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Why should I want to carry my own sin, if my Lord has laid claim to them, owned them, wrapped Himself in them and died for them? He who knew no sin, takes my sin, that I who am a poor miserable sinner might not know my sin. Owning up to my sin means that Jesus owns it. In His Forty Days of Purpose our Lord Jesus calls us to repent and believe the gospel because he takes away our sin.

 

Martin Luther

"There are two elements in true repentance: recognition of sin and recognition of grace; or, to use the more familiar terms, the fear of God and trust in mercy. These two parts David sets forth before us in this prayer as in a beautiful picture for us to look at. At the beginning of the psalm we see him troubled by the knowledge of his sin and the burden of his conscience. At the end he consoles himself with trust in the goodness of God and promises that he will also instruct others so that they might be converted. So it is apparent that in this psalm the prophet wanted to set down the true wisdom of divine religion in the right words with the right meaning, with the express purpose of teaching us the nature of sin, grace, and total repentance. There are also other psalms of this type, like Psalm 32, Beati quorum , and Psalm 130, De profundis .
 
David is a master in teaching this doctrine, but in such a way that in using this doctrine he remains a student with us; for all men, be they ever so illumined by the Holy Spirit, still remain students of the Word. They remain under and near the Word, and they experience that they can hardly draw out a drop from the vast ocean of the Holy Spirit."
 
Martin Luther, Commentary on Psalm 51, 51.1
 
Collect for Ash Wednesday
Almighty and everlasting God, because You hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are repentant, create in us new and contrite hearts that we, worthily repenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain from You, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
 
For all the faithful, that they might repent of their sins and receive holy absolution from their pastor as from Christ Himself
 
For all Christian clergy, that they might be strengthened and upheld under the discipline of the Lenten crosses

For all military personnel who are stationed in harm's way, that God our heavenly Father would protect and support them in the midst of trial and temptation

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)

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