Year B – Lent 1 – Create in Me A Clean Heart (Psalm 51)

This week, we enter Lent—the liturgical bad news without which Easter, the liturgical good news, makes no sense.  Lent anticipates Easter: it calls us to reflect upon the problem (sin resulting in death) so that we may better rejoice in the solution (salvation resulting in resurrection).

But how will we reflect upon and confess our sinfulness?  We are not without divine direction. God placed within the Psalter—His prescribed hymnbook—King David’s own confession. We will make his words our own with Harold W. Gilbert’s beautiful setting of Psalm 51:10-12. Gilbert was the headmaster at St. Peter’s Choir School until 1960 connected with St Peters Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.  The tune that Gilbert used was from Johann Anastasius Freylinghausen (1670-1739) who served as a Lutheran pastor at St. Ul­rich Church in Halle, Germany. It has a refreshing sound, like receiving forgiveness and being clean.

As a Psalm (to the choirmaster, for corporate use), these are words specially intended to inform and shape our thinking and feeling about confession.  We need such direction, and not only during Lent: Jesus, in the words He taught us to pray, assumes daily confession: “give us this day our daily bx`read, and forgive us trespasses…”

In Ps. 51, David hopes in God’s covenant love (v.1).  He seeks not only forgiveness, but change (v.2).  He acknowledges that, no matter who else is hurt, sin is sin because it’s against God Himself (v.4).  He asks to be purged with hyssop (v.7), the plant with which priests sprinkled blood on formerly-diseased houses to declare them clean (so, he’s asking God to be his Great High Priest in sprinkling blood to declare him clean).  He fears that he might be among those who share in the Holy Spirit but fall away (v.11, cr. Heb. 6:4-6).  He desires the restoration of his joy in God (v.12).  And he wants all this mercy to overflow in evangelism (v.13) and praise (v.14).

During Lent and every day, let us confess our sins—not as though the confession itself, or the zeal with which we offer it, or the duration of time for which we do not accept God’s forgiveness, merit anything with God: to feel such things is to self-righteously disobey the gospel.  Let us confess in faith that we have the forgiveness for which we ask: let us confess in faith that Jesus always lives to make intercession for us, so that even as we sin, we already have an advocate with the Father.

Contributed by Scott Cline

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