Thoughts for the Day

Wednesday, 22nd February 2023: Ash Wednesday: 4th Penitential psalm

Psalm 51 Penitence Sin God our Father King David Penitential psalms

Reading : Verses from Psalm 51

Ash Wednesday

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.
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 judgement...

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.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
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.

(Lectionary, New Revised Standard Version)


Psalm 51 is the fourth of the seven Penitential Psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143), and we looked at the third one recently (Psalm 38). Psalm 51 is certainly the greatest. It is usually sung or said on Ash Wednesday, at a sombre service when we think of our sin at the start of Lent.

We see King David at his lowest point after the grievous sin of desiring Bathsheba the wife of Uriah the Hittite, ensuring the latter is killed so that he can make Bathsheba his wife, and then the death of their subsequent child (2 Samuel 11-12.25). Because of his heinous crime David knows he is justly punished, yet he asks for mercy. He begs God out of his love to remove the sin that is like a stain on his soul. He knows God will not despise a truly contrite heart, but will wash him clean.

Years ago I would go into schools to do an experiential assembly on this subject:

  • Apply iodine to a white handkerchief: "This is our sin."
  • Dip hanky into glass of water: "To clean away the sin".
  • Handkerchief now has huge black mark: "We can't remove sin ourselves".
  • Use second glass of water with two teaspoons photographic fixer already added, and re-dip handkerchief: "However, when God removes our sin through the Holy Spirit, we are whiter than white."

This Lent let us ask God to wash us clean of our sin.


Heavenly Father,
we come to You at the start of this Lent,
to acknowledge our sin -
our deliberate, continual sins;
our casual, unacknowledged sins;
the sins of thought and of word;
those of action and deed.
and of those unknown to us.
We ask Your forgiveness for all of these,
and that you will give us mercy
and put a right spirit within us.

Follow Up Thoughts

Note: A fuller version of the iodine experiment can be found on page 62, in my book 'Christian Assemblies for Primary Schools' (not the second book 'More Assemblies'), still available on sites like Abebooks.

You might like to listen to one of these anthems by S.S. Wesley.

This Catholic site has some good ideas of what to do for Lent. What about numbers 5, 8, or 17?

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