My parents received two beautiful long stemmed crystal toasting glasses at their wedding. When I was growing up they kept one of them on display in the dining room. At some point I noticed a picture from their wedding day showing each of them offering the other a sip from their matching goblets. And I asked after the second one.
That’s when I learned that at about the age of two or three I became responsible for its destruction. I have always felt a little bad that one of those beautiful glasses was broken, but I must admit I have never felt guilty for my part in it. I couldn’t remember it and my parents always presented it as a funny story. One of those things that happens and you move on, much more happy to have a son than to have a toasting goblet.
When I was a boy about ten years old playing tag with a friend inside the house I bumped into a table and caused one of two matching vases to fall breaking a piece off. I glued the broken piece back on and replaced the vase and always denied knowing anything about it.
I have always felt bad about breaking the vase, and guilty and ashamed for lying about it.
But the real issue is not at all about what I have done. The real issue is about what kind of person I want to be, and what kind of things I will do.
Psalm 51 is read as part of every Ash Wednesday service. We might take a few moments to reflect on it and what it suggests about walking the way during Lent.
The prayer book does not mention it but the Biblical version of the psalm includes an introductory statement:
A Psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
Remember the story.
King David had the legal right to do what he wanted with his subjects, just as the more powerful man has the right to take what he wanted from the weaker.
But Nathan didn’t challenge David’s right to act in these ways. He confronted David on what kind of person he wanted to be before God.
David’s idea of himself was deeply rooted in his relationship with God, his shepherd, who gave him courage and strength to defend the weak and stand up against the unrighteous. At every turn David rejoiced in God his savior. And David trusted in God as the sole guarantor of his legacy.
When David recognized himself as the enemy against whom he had been battling all his life, he realized he was without a leg to stand on. There was no sacrifice he could make that would suffice. No power he could exercise even as king to make this right.
In our parlance He needed a software upgrade. Heck, he needed a whole new operating system. And he knew that he couldn’t write it for himself. After all, he had authored these system errors all on his own.
At the same time David recognized something remarkable. I can’t begin anew; but God can. Create in me a clean heart O Lord. You renew a right spirit within me.
Indeed, this is God’s whole purpose in Jesus. To assure us that the kind of people we want to be is far more important than anything we have done.
When the ashes go on your forehead, you might think of it as a sign that your sins, and the old operating system that supported them, is as good as dead to him, like this dust.
When you come up to receive the bread and wine, you might receive them as food to nourish the new heart and the new spirit.
This Lent you might try to continue on this way, focusing more on the kind of person you want to be than on the things you have done wrong, and looking for ways to grow into your identity as a member of Christ’s Body, filled with the heart and Holy spirit of God.
If you are like me, you won’t know exactly how to begin. Jesus offers us three ways that have proved reliable. Pray. To talk to God. Ask God to show you the way.
Fast. To remember how hard it can be to let go of something as simple as chocolate, and how unimportant those things are to who you are.
And it might help to do something charitable, give to someone else, and look for the many ways that God is reaching out to you with love. And it will surely help to keep gathering with other members of the Body with whom we are walking the way together.
Remembering and celebrating that God is far less concerned with where we have been than with where we are going. Let your sins be dead to God. In Christ we are a new creation.