Sin, Death, and Ash

IdontAsh Wednesday A

March 5, 2014

Psalm 51


On Ash Wednesday we think and sing and pray and talk a lot

about things we don’t like to talk about…

Sin and death…

And more particularly…our sin…and our death.


If there was any question in our minds about sin,

We will reminded today in our confession…

We have not loved as we ought;

We have not forgiven as we ought;

We have not listened as we ought;

We have experienced pride and envy; hypocrisy and apathy;

We have over-indulged ourselves;

And the list goes on and on…

You will noticed that as is tradition on Ash Wednesday,

At the end of our Confession I will not share with you any words of absolution – any words of forgiveness.

On Ash Wednesday after our confession, we are left to deal with our sin,

recognizing that we are entirely dependent on God’s mercy.

So we will pray, “Have mercy on us, O God; Have mercy on us, O God.”


The ashes on our foreheads are a reminder

of that sin and of our desire to return to God – our penitence.


The other thing we talk a lot about on Ash Wednesday is death.

Sherwin Nuland died on Monday.

A Yale-trained surgeon, he’s perhaps best known for his book

which won the National Book Award in 1994, How We Die.


In the book, Nuland writes about the process of death, the details of death, from a doctor’s perspective.

One of things he says in the book is that death is not the enemy – it’s disease that’s the enemy.  Death is merely an event – an inevitable event.

On Ash Wednesday we are faced with our mortality,

as we hear the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”





The ashes on our foreheads are a reminder

of death – of the fact that one day someone will say over us, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”


So why did we even show up here today?

It’s kind of a downer to think of sin and death on a day which was filled with sunshine don’t you think?;

…when we’re thinking that this time spring might actually be around the corner?


I think we showed up here

because we know that sin and death are very real in our lives;

I think we showed up here

because we know that we sometimes ignore the fact that sin and death are very real in our lives;

And I think we showed up here because

on our best days we know

and on our worst days we hope,

that sin and death do not have the final word.

There is mercy.

There is life.


…But mercy and life came with a cost, the cost of God’s life –

the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on a cross.


As I look out in a few moments I will see the ashes on your foreheads.

Some will be darker than others.

Some will be a little bit more crooked than others.

Some will be partially hidden by bangs and some I will see better because you don’t have a lot of hair!

But all will be placed on your foreheads intentionally in the shape of a cross.

Not as just a smudge or a circle or a thumbprint – but a cross.


Mercy and life – the antidote to sin and death – came through a cross.


King David knew of sin and death very well.

Tradition says that Psalm 51 was composed by David

After he has been confronted by Nathan with his sin.


Perhaps you remember the story…

David seduces Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah,

And in order to keep the secret,

David has Uriah placed on the frontlines of battle where he is killed.

Nathan says the famous words to David, pointing out his sin, “You are the man.”


Finally, at this moment, David is convicted by his sin, and as tradition says,

composes this desperate psalm asking God

to wash him, purge him, and blot out his sins.


David says, begs,

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me.”


David knows that God and only God can make things new.

God can create in him a different heart.

God can righten his spirit.

God can bring mercy and life.


During these forty days of Lent,

Convicted of our sin, and acknowledging our mortality – our limited time on earth,

we pray that God may create in us new hearts as well.


Sin and death are on our minds this day,

but also God’s work bringing us

newness of heart,

rightness of spirit,

mercy in the face of sin,

and life in the midst of death.


As we look at the crosses on each other’s foreheads this day,

let us give thanks.

We are just beginning the journey to the cross…

But the day of resurrection is not long after.



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