Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Psalm 51 is used in the Ash Wednesday liturgy. The story goes that King David wrote it after he got another man’s wife pregnant. He saw her and took her against her will. When she discovered she was pregnant, he tried to cover it up by bringing home her soldier husband, Uriah the Hittite. Uriah felt guilty about being home and sleeping with his wife so he lay outside the door each night. Since David could not blame the pregnancy on Uriah, he decided to order him to the front lines of battle where he was killed. David moved Bathsheba into his house and she bore him a son. (2Samuel 11). The story continues and it’s worth reading. I use this story to get High School age youth interested in reading the Bible. They can’t believe that the “Good Book” contains narratives where people behave so poorly.
Everyone has moments in their lives where they make poor decisions, hurt others, and sometimes act in an evil manner. Ash Wednesday is a time of reflection when we consider those moments in the light of our mortality. And like David, we beg God to create in us a clean heart.
I knew a woman who was beyond asking God for forgiveness. She felt she had committed a sin so awful that even God would not forgive her. Her priest tried to tell her that God was merciful but she did not believe him. In spite of her shame, she kept going to church because she liked singing in the choir.
The music director asked her to chant psalm 51 at the Ash Wednesday liturgy. She agreed and while she was chanting “create in me a new heart, O God” she felt a wave of love wash over her like she had stepped into a warm shower and she knew her sins had been forgiven. It was such an overwhelming feeling that she stopped chanting and just stood there in front of the congregation in disbelief at the intensity of the feeling. With the prompting of the music director, she picked up the chant and continued to the end.
This woman’s life was transformed during that chant. She made it her mission to proclaim God’s mercy and forgiveness. It’s available, it’s undeserved, and it’s transforming.