Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday: “Save Me Because of Your Unfailing Love”[1]
February 22, 2012
Text: Psalm 6

Psalm 6 is the first of the Penitential Psalms. The Penitential Psalms will be the basis of our meditations this Lenten season as we reflect on God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Penitential, penitence, what does this mean? It is from the same root as the word “penitentiary.” Penitence means to be sorry for your sins. The penitential Psalms are prayers of lament over our sinful condition, the wages of our sin, which is death and condemnation, and our utter inability to free ourselves or make ourselves righteous. At the same time, the penitential Psalms are confessions of faith that God is gracious, that He has done something about our sin, that with Him there is forgiveness and life. There are seven penitential Psalms. Our Psalm this evening was composed by King David. In this Psalm David prays that the LORD not rebuke him in His anger, but be gracious and deliver him from his sin. And the Psalms being the prayer book of the Bible, the Church prays these words earnestly along with David.

A word related to penitence is repentance. Repentance includes penitence, sorrow over sin. Really, it means a turning away from sin and to God for forgiveness in Christ. Repentance is a recognition of wickedness and helplessness on the part of the sinner. But it goes further than that. It is a recognition of God’s gracious willingness to help and deliver, to forgive and restore. Repentance is what Ash Wednesday is all about. This evening we are marked with ashes, the sign of our death, as we are reminded from Holy Scripture that we are dust, and to dust we shall return (Gen. 3:19). Such is the divine sentence upon sinners. But we receive those ashes in the shape of the holy cross, for we believe and know that our Lord Jesus Christ has suffered our death for us, in our place, as our substitute, that we might live and not die. And so it is on that basis that, even as we repent, turning away from sin and to God in faith, we ask God in the words of King David to turn and be gracious to us, to spare us, to deliver us. “Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love” (Ps. 6:4; ESV).

And He does. He does by the death of His Son on the cross. He does by His application of that death of His Son on the cross to us in the Word and the Sacraments. Specifically, in Holy Baptism, all the righteousness of Jesus Christ His Son is applied to us. We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ so that they become our own. We have died with Christ. Our sins were nailed to His cross. They are buried forever in His tomb, even as we are raised out of the baptismal waters to new life in Him, with the sure and certain promise of the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day.

Repentance means a daily return to Baptism. Martin Luther asks in the Small Catechism: “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[2] This is death and resurrection language. For such is the pattern of the Christian life, our life in Christ, our crucified and risen Lord. We see this pattern played out again and again: Law and Gospel, repentance and forgiveness, confession and Absolution. Yes, that is a very important part of the Christian life as well. Part of what it means to repent is to confess, to say to God just what it is that you have done. And then you have this marvelous gift of God in His holy Church, that He has given you a pastor for no other reason than to forgive your sins, to absolve you, to speak on behalf of Christ: “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.” It’s a return to Baptism. You confess. You drown that Old Adam of yours. And you are absolved. You are raised to new life in Christ. It’s a daily thing before your God as you confess to Him that you are a poor, miserable sinner, and cling to the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ. It’s a general thing in the Divine Service as we corporately confess our unworthiness and hear and cling to the Word of Absolution, believing that the words the pastor speaks are just as certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself. And it is also a very personal thing as you come before God in private Absolution, naming specifically the sins that trouble you, and hearing from your pastor, as God’s mouthpiece, that all those sins you have named, and any other sins you have committed, are forgiven in the Name of our Triune God. All this is, is to live in your Baptism, to die and rise again, to repent and be forgiven. It is to live the cruciform life, the mark of which you will receive on your forehead this evening.

Do not be afraid, dear Christians. The LORD has not rebuked you in His anger, nor disciplined you in His wrath. He has been gracious to you. He sent His Son. He has turned to you in mercy, to deliver you and save you according to His steadfast love. Flood your bed with tears of repentance. Drench your couch with weeping over your sin. For you have offended the holy God with your iniquity. But believe more boldly still that the LORD has heard your plea and accepted your prayer. The blood of His Son has washed away your sin. You are forgiven. You are restored. And though you weep in dust and ashes now, for a little while, the dawn of your deliverance, the resurrection from the dead, is coming. The Lord bless your Lententide, beloved. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the points made in this year’s Lenten series are from God’s Gift of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).
[2] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

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