The 51st Psalm can get kinda intense:
“Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.”
“Let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.”
“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
That’s why it is important to hear clearly its opening verse:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.”
-Your steadfast love… more literally your “womb-love” or if that kind of language makes you feel some way, your “motherly love.” That’s the foundation upon which we can come together and be truthful about who we are, God’s motherly love—does this.
I had a strange coincidence happen to me around my birthday this last year. A friend and I were in Target, and he pointed to this soap, “Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap.” He asked, “You’re parents are hippies, I bet you use that right?” I said “no,” and was going to go about my day, but he had me smell it, and it was bizarre… I was transported to my grandma’s house.
It turned out, this soap was the funny soap my grandma always used when I was a kid…
Smell is a powerful thing
—now each time I wash my hands with this soap, it’s like I’m a kid up in Thief River Falls, Minnesota in the summer:
-long days of watching cartoons,
-walks in the park with Grandma’s poodle, Woofer,
-fighting ticks and mosquitoes and soothing the bites with Aloevera,
-putting together machines and robots with stuff from the junk drawer,
-being tucked into bed safe and sound as she sang me to sleep, singing: “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”
…All that from smelling soap… an experience of Grandmotherly love.
Dear God, according to your motherly love, make me clean!
The Motherly love of God—that’s how we can do Ash Wednesday at all.
Held fast by the Motherly love of God, we can confess
—yes, I’ve made mistakes,
yes, I’ve hurt people I care about,
yes I have sinned by what I do and by what I don’t do.
For that matter, we can better face the reality of our mortality,
that our bodies will fail us,
that our minds will, as well,
that we are creature, not Creator, no matter how much we’d like it to be otherwise.
We do this, not to feel bad about things
—but because it’s true,
and we can be real about things…
I know people don’t like to talk about it, but most folk walk around day to day with a lot of humiliation held inside… or on their shoulders… or wherever it is we keep those kinds of feelings.
And, when we admit where we’re at in the scheme of things, we can be humble, and let me tell you, “humility can not be humiliated.”
For that matter, when we look around the room this evening,
seeing ash crosses on one another’s heads
—ashes to ashes, dust to dust—
we can see that we’re not alone in this.
I think of an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” in which the main character, Ted, continually drags around his “baggage” –that he’d been left at the Altar—it made him isolated and alone.
Then, by the end of the episode, he realizes everyone has baggage
—the final scene of this episode is of the metaphorical baggage everyone has popping into reality as pieces of luggage
—what was invisible and shameful, becomes visible and an acknowledged part of life.
So too, when you look around in a few minutes, look at those crosses
—recognize you are not alone in any of this
—we’re all dragging our luggage, we all have our own baggage.
It’s not as if everyone else has it figured out and you’re just trying to get through
–everyone is adlibbing.
This Lent, let us thank God for the Motherly Love God shows us, which allows us to
embrace humility and find a certain defense against humiliation.
Motherly Love which hones our honesty about our failings and fallibility, and we find ourselves in good company, and not alone.
This Ash Wednesday I am so thankful for the Motherly Love of God. Amen.