Today's Lectionary Text
To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
Have mercy on me, O God,
For I know my transgressions,
You desire truth in the inward being;
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
O Lord, open my lips,
This Psalm is a traditional reading for Ash Wednesday, and it begins with a reminder of our human brokenness and need for repentance. It’s hard sometimes to hear that we have done something wrong, that we have harmed others. Ash Wednesday is the reminder of the price of our brokenness. We live in a world where there is brokenness and pain, and where we experience the mortality of our physical body.
For two years I served as a Clinical Pastoral Education resident at the University of Kansas Hospital. My first year, I was the chaplain on call for Ash Wednesday. I was called to so many different places in the hospital to provide the imposition of ashes for doctors and nurses who simply could not get away from their work to attend mass or services, as well as for patients.
I remember being struck by how universally recognized and requested the ashes, those symbols of grief and repentance, were that day. I’d begin imposing ashes for one person and it seemed like a line would form right behind of others who wanted to receive the ashes. These ancient practices of the church still feed a deep hunger in our soul, even in the modern world.
But most of all, I was struck by the nature of using a reminder that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” in a place where for some that return to dust was staring them right in their face. In my work in the hospital, I came to recognize just how much we do to deny, avoid, and prevent death, and yet the fact is, we are all mortal. We do return to the dust of the earth from which God created and breathed life into us. I have come to recognize that being reminded of our mortality is in many ways a blessing and an opportunity. Life is all the sweeter because it is limited and precious. And the call to repentance is a gift and an invitation to live each moment with a clean conscience and with the promise that even when we do terrible wrongs, God will walk with us and make us new every day.
Lent is an opportunity to walk with Christ and to allow our brokenness to die with him on Golgotha, on that Cross. It is a chance for us to allow our hearts to be broken by the things that break God’s heart too. War, poverty, injustice, all of those places where sin has divided us, can be healed by God’s grace. Prayers, fasting, and almsgiving are ancient practices that are needed now more than ever in this world.
Pastor of Bassett and Springview (Nebraska) United Methodist Churches
Prayer for Reflection
O God, you remind us that we are dust and to dust we return. Help us to face bravely and boldly our mortality, and to live as people who are ready to die, so that we may live into the promise of life abundant through your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This Week's Lectionary
This Week's Liturgical Color