Ash Wednesday 2015

Ash Wednesday
18 February 2015
Psalm 103

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We get just one verse out of Psalm 103 in the Tract today. Just before we heard Our Lord in the sermon the mount we sang: “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.”

Our fathers expect us to know the whole Psalm, but, of course, to our shame, we don’t.  The only Psalm we know is 23. And while the sentence itself, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities,” is certainly of comfort, we are missing the context and the context brings even more comfort.

So here it is:

Psalm 103: A Psalm of David.

1Bless the Lord, O my soul: And all that is within me, bless his holy name.

2Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all his benefits:

3Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; Who healeth all thy diseases;

4Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

5Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6The Lord executeth righteousness And judgment for all that are oppressed.

7He made known his ways unto Moses, His acts unto the children of Israel.

8The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

9He will not always chide: Neither will he keep his anger for ever.

10He hath not dealt with us after our sins; Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

11For as the heaven is high above the earth, So great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

12As far as the east is from the west, So far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

13Like as a father pitieth his children, So the Lord pitieth them that fear him.

14For he knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.

15As for man, his days are as grass: As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.

16For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; And the place thereof shall know it no more.

17But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, And his righteousness unto children’s children;

18To such as keep his covenant, And to those that remember his commandments to do them.

19The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; And his kingdom ruleth over all.

20Bless the Lord, ye his angels, That excel in strength, that do his commandments, Hearkening unto the voice of his word.

21Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts; Ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.

22Bless the Lord, all his works In all places of his dominion: Bless the Lord, O my soul.

David is talking to himself, to his soul. He says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” To bless the Lord means to say good things about Him. We get our word eulogy from the Greek word for bless. We use it for a speech of good things about a person who is dead. When we say good things about God, we speak the truth and God is pleased. When God says good things about us, when He blesses us, He also speaks the truth. God does not lie. What He says is. His Word makes it happen. So the blessing of God is a powerful and significant thing. This is why it is customary to bow or even kneel at the benediction. It is not a wishing something generally nice or a meaningless greeting. It is the truth from God spoken by God in His mercy upon us. Having heard good things from God about God and oneself in Christ, the Christian soul responds by moving the mouth to say good things back to Him. Thus David, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

David then lists things that are true about God.  He describes five benefits of faith. First, Christ has removed our guilt by making satisfaction in Himself and putting Himself to death in our place. This is the foundation of our life in Christ: He forgives all thine iniquities. Secondly, He has healed our infirmities. This doesn’t mean we’ve never suffering any bodily illness but rather that His Word and Sacraments soften the heat of our carnal passions, those things that afflict and hurt us and those we love. Thirdly, He has redeemed our life from destruction. He does not let our sins have their way with us. He afflicts us with a guilty conscience in order to rob our sins of joy, that we would repent and seek forgiveness, and then He soothes us with that promised forgiveness. He redeems our life from destruction. Fourth, He bestows on us reward for the His faithful observance of the Law, that is, He crowneth us with loving kindness and tender mercies. We get credit for His good works. We are counted as the crown prince of heaven and He as the sinner cast out into outer darkness while we eat His food, live in His house, and take His Name. We receive His own Kingdom purchased for us with His Blood. Finally, He has obtained for us, by His Resurrection, the immortality of the body. Our earthly bodies shall be renewed in youth and vigor and soar like eagles in the resurrection on the last day.[1]

He forgives iniquity. He heals diseases. He redeems life from destruction. He bestows lovingkindness and tender mercies upon His children and He satisfies the body with good things. He is righteous. All this He made known to Moses, whom He had write it down for our benefit and instruction. In other words, on top of all that He also gave us the Bible, that we might has His Word in an objective and trustworthy format, that we might know Him according to His history and actions with His people Israel, that is, our people, for the we are the people with the faith of Abraham. Above all, the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger. He is plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: Neither will he keep his anger forever.

And then we get our sentence from today’s liturgy: “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.”

This is the essence of the Lord’s mercy. He has not dealt with us after our sins but according to His love. He has not rewarded us according to our guilt. Yet we are rewarded. We are rewarded according to His mercy, by Divine substitution. Again: we get credit for the perfect life, for the innocence, for the goodness, of Jesus Christ.

David goes on:  “As far as the east is from the west, So far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, So the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.”

There we see clearly the connection our fathers made between this Psalm and Ash Wednesday. On the day in which we are charged to remember that we are dust, we are told by David that whether we remember it or not, the Lord remembers. He remembers that we are dust, that our days are as grass, that we flourish for a moment like a flower in a field and are gone in an instant. He remembers. He does not forget. And this is not a cause of frustration or anger because we are vain and think more of ourselves than we ought, but a cause for pity. In contrast to the briefness of our life, His mercy is from everlasting to everlasting. It does not fail. It does not end. It does not forget.

David ends with a call for the angels and all creation to bless the Lord and then a final refrain as he began: “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

This is the way the Church does penance. While we might put on sackcloth and ashes and take a serious inventory of our lives, we do so with the firm and eager expectation of forgiveness and acceptance by God. Easter is in our sights. We know where we are headed. Bless the Lord, O my soul, for even if we restrain ourselves from Alleluias, we do not stop, not even for an instant, blessing the Lord.

He hath not dealt with us after our sins; Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.


[1] Related directly, but modified heavily, to a quote of St. Bruno the Carthusian as found in J. M. Neale and R. F. Littledale, A Commentary on the Psalms from Primitive and Mediæval Writers: Psalm 81 to Psalm 118, vol. 3 (London; New York: Joseph Masters; Pott and Amery, 1871), 302.

Bookmark the permalink.