Reading Psalm 51:1-17

A reading for Ash Wednesday: Psalm 51:1-17

This Psalm leaves us nothing to stand on. We bring nothing to the table with God but a broken spirit and despair over our own state. We have not a single word of self-justification or pride.

You, God, are just when you destroy us, the Psalmist sings.

W.B. Yeats has a poem about the failure of poetry, when all his powers of invention had deserted him. He speaks in the last line of lying down in the rag and bone shop of the heart. The Psalmist, I think knew what Yeats meant. They were both poets, after all.

And although Americans tend to be suspicious of poetry and poets — neither one gets much done — I think the Psalmist’s biggest outrage is that he does not give us a program by which we can fix ourselves. He offers no sure fire plans. He has nothing to sell us. He simply holds out his hands and says, “please.”

Please wash me of my sin. Please give me a new heart. Please put a new spirit in me. Please. Please. Please.

Sylvester Stallone never got famous acting like this.

Our churches will not be full tomorrow for Ash Wednesday service. Being told you are going to die does not makes us feel very good. Better to stay home and let the TV tell us that everything will be alright if we just work hard enough or refuse to give up.