Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God

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According to the online Lectionary, there are two possible Psalms appointed for use this Sunday-Psalm 51 or Psalm 119. Psalm 51, also known as theMiserere mei, Deus, for its first line, “Have mercy on me, O God,” has always been my favorite Psalm. It also appears in the prayer book’s Ash Wednesday liturgy, and the Tallis Scholars have a beautiful recording of Allegri’s Miserere, named by BBC Music Magazine as one of the “50 Greatest Recordings of All Time.”

The Psalm is said to have been written by David after the prophet Nathan confronted him for committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband, Uriah, killed. The tone of the Psalm is one of heartsick repentance-contrition-over what David has done, hence its use on Ash Wednesday. In verse 4, he says that his sin is against God, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest;” and in verse 5 he recognizes that he was born sinful, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (I like the King James version!)

It is verses 10 through 12 that are my favorite, though:

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

I love these verses (which I recite every morning after getting out of bed) because they so succinctly express what I wish from God-redemption. I especially like the words “renew” and “restore” because they imply that we were once joined with God and can be again.

Finally, the whole Psalm gives me much hope. It reminds me that even God’s elect, David, through whom Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestry, committed sins-big sins-and needed God’s forgiveness! Surely, if God can make use of a sinner like David, God can make some use of me.

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