By The Very Rev. June Osborne
The editor of the psalms tells us that Psalm 51 was composed by David after the prophet Nathan had rebuked him for his desire of Bathsheba and all that followed from it. We know that after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC the king entered into penitential rites on behalf of his nation and this text may have been part of that corporate confession. The language of contrition and confession means that we often use it as part of our Lent journey of worship.
‘Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin’ isn’t only a religious expression for few men or women lead their lives without some sense of failure or remorse, and all have a great need of forgiveness: of being forgiven but also that they might forgive themselves.
It was the good news of forgiveness and a changed life which Jesus’ disciples took with them on their missionary endeavours. You can imagine that when they returned they would want to share their exploits and their own growth in faith. They are thwarted, first by the crowds who demand Jesus’ attention and who need feeding. But then Jesus himself begins to explain that his messianic calling is one of suffering not triumph, and they too must ‘take up their cross’. That cross will be different for each of us. Denying ourselves is a long and challenging path and it isn’t easy to absorb how it brings us life.
As we come towards the end of Numbers there is a recollection of the 42 stages of Israel’s journey through the Wilderness from Egypt and before they begin to settle in a new land of promise. Our own journey, learning how to be true followers of a suffering Lord, might sometimes feel just as arduous but through it God creates in us a clean heart, and puts a new and right spirit within us.
What do you think might be your ‘cross’ which you have been asked to take up in order to follow Christ?
Is there something which you wish to confess or express penitence for today?
Loving God, you hate nothing that you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create and make in me a clean heart that I may obtain from you a knowledge of your mercy and a deep sense of your forgiveness; in your holy name I pray. Amen
The Very Rev. June Osborne is Dean of Salisbury Cathedral in England