Dear Grace Church Family,
I commend the words of Psalm 51 to you this day. Actually, every day. In the long tradition of Christian and Jewish devotional practice, only a few Psalms are more recited or committed to memory. In the Lutheran Liturgy, the verses of it that start, “Create in me a clean heart O God,” are sung at every offertory before Communion. In the Anglican/Episcopal Liturgy, these same words are prayed by the priests as they wash their hands at the Eucharist. Offer them as your prayer to God today.
Psalm 51: The real beginning of Holy Week. After the Palms of the Triumphal Entry, after the long reading of the Passion story, Holy week truly begins with confession; and it begins with a prayer. Psalm 51 is, by Tradition, ascribed to King David. It is thought to be his own confession of sin after his crime spree of adultery and murder. It’s a good tradition, because it reminds us first, that even one who considers himself above human law, is still not above God’s Law; not even an anointed, all-powerful king. And second, it reminds us that no matter the depth of our own sin, no one is ever beyond God’s mercy; no matter the grotesqueness of our depravity.
No wonder, then, that this is the prayer that sets us up for, and leads us into, this week of weeks ahead. If we are thinking too loftily of ourselves, it crushes our pride. If we are already in a dark night of the soul, it restores our hope. We need this beginning if we are to face the events of this week with “an open and contrite heart,” if we are to consider well what it means for Jesus to give us a share in his body and his blood as he institutes the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday, and if we are to correctly weigh the cost of his sacrifice for us on “Good” Friday. Only with this start to this week’s journey, which will allow us to walk into and understand this week’s events, will we arrive at the end; the Resurrection of life on Easter Sunday.
Yet, perhaps I’ve misspoken slightly here. Next Sunday will not bring an end to the journey. Rather it will be a whole new beginning. For with the dawn of Easter, all life beyond will journey in the light and hope of Resurrection. Something that can help us to walk in that light and hope will still be this Psalm 51. Consider these verses:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
These are verses to commit to memory. Do it, so that you can carry them with you. They will begin your day with hope, and end your day with trust.