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Posted by on Feb 11, 2019 | 0 comments

An Ash Wednesday Reading for 2 Voices

Here is an Ash Wednesday reading based on Psalm, 51, verses 1-17 that is meant for two readers.  The text of the Psalm is interspersed with commentary by an imaginary person reading and reflecting on the text.  The commentary itself may be useful, but it’s also there to give permission to worshipers to engage in their own honest dialogue with this ancient text.  Of course, the commentary can be changed as you see fit for use in your particular setting.  (Note: the Psalm text is from the New Revised Standard Version but most translations could be used)




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. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

I know that I’m not perfect.  Knowing what’s healing, I sometimes hurt.  Knowing what’s helpful, I sometimes hinder.  There’s need for me to be forgiven.  There’s need for me to be honest with myself, others, and God, about that.

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.  Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

This is harder for me, God.  I know I need to be forgiven, but I’m not at all comfortable thinking about myself as evil, as being born guilty, as needing to be judged.  Is the hard language here supposed to teach me wisdom in my innermost places?  Is fear supposed to bring me closer to the truth?

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

There is hope and promise here.  Though I am imperfect and need to be forgiven, that forgiveness is possible in you, God, the one who cleanses, and revives bones…restores my joy and gladness.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

God, I ask this of you: re-create me from the inside out.  Resurrect my dead branches so that blossoms can grow.  Till the soil of my hardened heart and prepare me for new seeds.  Bring life in me.  Bring life in me.  Bring life in me

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

God, having asked you, I now promise you: that new life IN me will become new life THROUGH me.  My voice will praise you.  My voice will teach others about you.  My voice will bear witness to your love. 

For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

I know God.  You don’t want showy rituals and Ash Wednesday promises.  You want truth.  You want honesty. You want commitment.  And you want breaks in my spirit and my heart.  Breaks, not because you delight in my suffering.  Not because you want to punish me.  But because you have something different and better in mind.  And because breaks in my spirit and my heart are the places where your light can enter in.

© Rev. Kevin Goldenbogen, 2019

Kevin Goldenbogen is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ serving Charlotte Congregational Church in northwestern Vermont. He skis, runs, bakes bread, and tries every day to follow Jesus. He is married to the perfect woman and has two boys who he loves beyond words.


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