Ash Wednesday 14th February – Psalm 51 ‘Purity and joy’

Psalm 51

At its heart, Psalm 51 is about choosing humility in order to see life and renewal again – and as such, it also encapsulates the journey of Lent.  We choose to humble ourselves not to just be miserable for 40 days but in order that we may experience God’s presence again, his goodness, his mercy, and ultimately his joy.  We re-orientate our lives around God again, and so find renewal and a fresh insight into the path of life.

Particularly during the years of pandemic, many of us might feel that we’ve had Lent-style sacrifices forced upon us in recent times.  So I’m not going to talk about the benefits of fasting today!  Although please do those if you feel called to….  Instead, I’ve been drawn to the three verses in the middle of this psalm, and three prayers of David which might be ours this season:

Create in me a pure heart, O God.  The prophet Joel tells us to ‘rend your heart and not your garments’, and this prayer echoes a similar theme.  In Lent we all have the chance for a bit of open heart surgery: to examine ourselves, and let God’s purifying love and grace wash us clean.  Perhaps this year, our hearts need healing, or cleansing from bitterness or anger about the way things have been the last couple of years.  May this Lent act as a spiritual de-tox for us, a chance to lay down anything that scars our hearts, that the pure grace and love of Christ might flow freely again.

Renew a steadfast and a willing spirit within me.  Steadfastness is an old-fashioned kind of word, isn’t it?  The Boy’s Brigade motto is ‘sure and steadfast’ – wonderfully Victorian!  But increasingly, I need a bit of that: that capacity to stand firm whatever life throws at us.  And I like the fact that David in Psalm 51 asks not just for steadfastness, but willingness.  God, make me want to stand firm.  ‘I can resist everything except temptation,’ Oscar Wilde famously said – Lent is a great time for us to pray fervently for that steadfast and willing spirit which, the psalm promises us, ‘will sustain us.’

Restore to me the joy of your salvation.  It might sound strange for me to finish an Ash Wednesday reflection talking about joy.  Surely it’s all self-denial and hessian undergarments?  But the purpose of Lent is ultimately joy – whatever we invest in for Lent should increase our sense of gratitude, our conviction that life is lived in the light of God’s marvellous grace.  We simplify, we take time, we dig back to our roots, and, as we do that, we find the Lord and we find joy.

The good news is that, unlike King David, it doesn’t take an affair and a murder to prompt us to pray these prayers!   But this season I’d like to invite us all to make these prayers (above) your own – and perhaps to make a resolution as to what that might look like for you this Lent.  May that be your way of saying ‘yes’ to Jesus – and all that Jesus has for you – this Lent….  Amen.