Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)
It was a brutally hot late summer afternoon. The workout for the day was a hard tempo run and I chose to do it on the trail hoping the shade would provide at least a little relief. It did not. I finished, completely dripping with sweat that dried into a white crust on my skin and mixed with grit and dust from the trail. After a long, cold drink of water, the only thing I wanted was to get in a shower and wash away the grime clinging to me. And that shower was wonderful. Afterward, I felt like a whole new person.
Psalm 51 is attributed to David, king of Israel. David has done a bad thing. A very bad thing. Simply put, as king he had Uriah killed in battle and took his wife Bathsheba for himself. He would have gotten away with it, too, were it not for God and God’s prophet, Nathan. When Nathan confronted David for his sin which was clinging to him, David recognized the depths of his wrongdoing. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance.
Over and over David asks God to “wash me,” “cleanse me,” “blot out” my sin, trusting in God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy. He asks God to cleanse not just his body, like a good shower, but his heart, the center of his being, the core of who he is.
Teach me wisdom in my secret heart (v.6).
Create in me a clean heart (v.10).
A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (v. 17).
This prayer was a step on the journey to being a better person. David still needed to learn humility and self-sacrifice, which is not easy when you are, “the great King David!” But his acknowledgement of wrong and trust in God’s forgiveness was a good place to start.
Tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday, we begin the journey of Lent. It is traditionally a season of repentance and contrition and personal growth as we acknowledge our sin, receive God’s forgiveness, and seek to be better persons. It is a time to make our hearts clean that come Easter morning, we, too, may rise to new life.