A Prayer for Ash Wednesday

First my apologies for some technical difficulties: last week, the service that sends out my posts had some sort of “hiccup” and sent an old post from October! Then this morning my blog decided to post an unfinished entry that’s not supposed to go up until next week (February 14). So here’s the “real” item for today!

Liturgical churches celebrate today as Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which is a season of self-examination, repentance and even fasting in preparation for Good Friday and Easter. The following prayer was written by English reformer Thomas Cranmer to be used in the liturgy for Ash Wednesday:

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

– Thomas Cranmer, 1928 Book of Common Prayer

I see several biblical truths in this prayer, including echoes of both 1 John 1:9 and Psalm 51. My sin is a genuine offense against God, and I must truly repent if I want to experience the forgiveness Christ purchased for me. Look how repentance is described: being penitent, having a contrite heart, lamenting my sin, acknowledging my wretchedness. How often I substitute self-hatred for this kind of healthy mourning for my sin! But if God doesn’t hate me when I sin, what right do I have to hate myself? Especially when He is the God of all mercy who graciously gives me a new heart, complete with all the repentance I need to enjoy His forgiveness!

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
    according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me...

Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me...

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart,
    O God, you will not despise.

- Psalm 51:1-3, 9-10, 17 (NIV)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
– 1 John 1:9 (NIV)

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