A homily for Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful spirit.
We gather today to begin Lent. Immediately after the imposition of ashes we will say Psalm 51, the great penitential psalm which has been repeated by Christians and Jews for millennia. I would like to reflect with you on this psalm.
Lent is a time for the renewal of life. It is a time to focus ourselves on the gift of life that God has given us. It is common to think that it is about sin and feeling bad about it. But you can do that any time: the Psalm says “I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.” Our sin; our falling away from the goodness that God has for us, is real, but it is not for us to wallow in sinfulness, or to commit the further sin of despair.
This psalm is about God’s mercy… “according to your loving kindness in your great compassion blot out my offenses.” God’s compassion propels us forward in our lives, even if we want to pack it in, and give up. It says, “behold, you look for truth deep within me, and will make me understand wisdom secretly.” We can be distracted by the things of this world. Have you turned off your cell phone? Is the anger and pre-occupation of this political season upsetting you? But when we listen to God in the secrecy of our heart, the truth is there. That truth is God’s love, deep within every person. The purpose of our penitence, and indeed of all our lives, is to discover that love of God, to step forward just a bit, and live a little more in that love.
Listen to how the Psalm progresses after that:
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me and I shall be clean indeed. Make me hear of joy and gladness, that the body you have broken may rejoice.
Lent is not a sad season, it is the season where that body that has been broken is purified and focused so that may rejoice. We live and we move toward Easter. We live in this real world, where death and sin, distraction from love and attention to hate are real things that surround us. Remember, Jesus was in the midst of just this reality, and in it and from it, he really died. At Easter, God raised him from the dead, and none of these things have power over life any more. Our journey to the cross is a journey to life.
I shall teach your ways to the wicked and sinners shall return to you.
Deliver me from death, O God, and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness, O God of my salvation.
Open my lips, O Lord, And my mouth shall proclaim your praise.