Lent | 3.23.12
In his Confessions, Augustine pleads for God to cure him of some particular pitfalls, and then follows his plea with the words, “but not yet.” Augustine is comfortable with his life and enjoys his sin too much. Psalm 51 makes me think of Augustine and of us all.
As I read the words “whiter than snow,” in this psalm, my mind goes back to the old hymn by that same name. I recall sitting in the wooden pew of my church when I was a child, singing the words, but really not reflecting too much on their meaning:
“Lord Jesus, I see Thou dost patiently wait:
Come now and within me a new heart create.
To those who have sought Thee, Thou never said, No:
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
As I have grown older, the pleading voice of Psalm 51 has taken on greater significance to me, as have the words of the old hymn.
These thoughts are really not very comforting to me, but Lent is not supposed to be a season of comfort. During Lent, Christians reflect on the trials and temptations that Jesus faced. Experiencing the glorious victory of Easter is not possible without reflecting on the events that preceded it. Psalm 51 is a penitential psalm that reminds us that we are unworthy. I do not like this, because I do not like to feel unworthy. It is so much easier to view myself as being a fairly decent person. And, like Augustine, the thought of being like snow, of being purged, does not sound too appealing. In fact, it sounds painful.
Maybe that is the point. Later in Confessions, Augustine gladly writes of taking on the yoke of God. He has come a long way since his earlier prayer. The yoke may sound unappealing to some, but I think Augustine and the psalmist had come to know something that is often elusive for us. The yoke brought Augustine an unprecedented kind of freedom. The gift and acceptance of grace in the face of unworthiness bring tremendous worth in return. To be washed and purged is grace; it is freedom. The psalmist, like Augustine, pleads to be in the presence of God and realizes that there is nothing to lose. The process may be painful, but Lent reminds us all that what is gained is hard to fathom. The theologian Paul Tillich wrote about accepting the fact that we are unacceptable, and yet, we are indeed accepted. This is possible because we are the most fortunate recipients of the grace and freedom of Christ.
Associate Professor, School of Religion
You can download the full Lent and Holy Week Devotional Guide at:http://www.belmont.edu/religion/files/lent-devotional-2012-final.pdf