A Fresh STart, Daily
If there was theme song to Ash Wednesday and this season we are entering, the season of Lent … it would have to be Psalm 51. If the words of David’s great penitential Psalm are not already sunk deep into your mind and soul, you might want to make meditation on this Psalm a top priority for the season, especially these verses:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of my salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.”
In just three short verses we have a prayer that gathers us into a meeting place where our desire for reconciliation with God meets God’s great desire to forgive, renew and restore the relationship between us. As followers of Jesus Christ, this brief prayer gives us words to respond to both the beauty and the horror of the cross; it gives us words we can call out to attach our hope to Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead; and these words open our hearts to receive the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s an absolutely amazing little detail about this God we meet here and who calls us to repentance and change today so that we might walk with God in righteousness and blessedness into eternity: Our God transforms David’s catastrophic and public sin to give us the words we lack when we ourselves seek to know the depths of the mercy and love of God. The God who created us and all creatures, the heavens and earth and all that lives, is the God who brings life out of death; righteousness out of sin; glory out of shame; strength out of weakness.
We have set aside this day (Ash Wednesday) as the doorway into a season where God invites us to stop what we’re doing; to meet in Jesus Christ; and from that meeting to change the direction of our lives, so that as we emerge from this season to consider again the sacrifice of Jesus’ death on the cross and the triumph of his resurrection we can live as people who bear witness to God’s kingdom and the transformative power of God’s mercy and love we have found in Jesus Christ. These ashes are the powerful symbol that stops us in out tracks: "We are dust and to dust we shall return.” Our condition and our nature is terminal. The trajectory of this life ends in death and decay, ashes to ashes; dust to dust.
But remember I said this day is the doorway into a season that leads us to face the horror of death so that God might resurrect us, just as God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at God’s right hand. On our own and without the Spirit of God surrounding us, these ashes terrify us and send us running in panic, doing everything in our power to shut out there condemning voice; but surrounded and filled with the Holy Spirit and led forward by our crucified and risen Lord Jesus, these ashes and all they communicate become the holy ground of God’s new creation. It is a fresh start.
Which brings us back to the great Psalm of the great and notorious sinner King David. David is received into God's presence, righteous before God, a hero of the faith, not on account of any greatness within himself, but he is declared a man after God’s own heart by virtue of God's steadfast love and mercy that considers him, and his steadfast trust and love for this God who loved him first ... it's faith -- which is nothing less than the work of God’s own Spirit dwelling in him. David always knew that to be the case. From the time he was a small shepherd boy defending his flock, he put his trust in the LORD, but it is in his shame and humiliation that God confirms God’s steadfast love for him and God’s mercy to him, and God’s deep desire to not cast him away from the divine presence but to draw him even closer to God’s loving heart.
Perhaps that is the great summary of life in Christ: a journey with Jesus that draws ever deeper and ever closer to the loving heart of our God. That journey moves and progresses in stages, in seasons, in turnings and turning again. In fresh start after fresh start, daily. Maybe this is one of the great gifts our ancestors in faith have passed on to us. Maybe this is the wisdom for life with God that we have received from those witnesses who went before us, who relied on God's love and mercy themselves, a day, a sign of dust and ash … a doorway that opens to the mystery of eternal life with the Heavenly Father, given through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. The door stands open to you … God grant you the strength to stop, turn around and enter through this narrow gate … Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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