Here we pause at the Fifth Week of our Lenten Journey. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday and then we are in Holy Week. It is as if we are on the road of no return. What looms ahead is the empty cross, the empty tomb and Resurrection Day! You may find that this week you seem more tired, wishing that Lent was over and St. Ephrem’s Prayer packed away for another year. The Gospel writers tell us that this is the week when many people decided to turn back and no longer wanted to follow Jesus.
I encourage you to stay the course. Transformation is coming! Let this week be preparation for Palm Sunday and Holy Week. We began the Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday with Psalm 51 and here on the Fifth Sunday of Lent we are revisiting six specific verses with the theme of Lost Joy (verse 3-4), Restored Joy (verses 12-13), and Celebrate Joy (verses 14-15). Let us just refresh our memory about why the Psalm was written.
King David decided not to lead his army in battle as military chief of the army of Israel, but instead to send the next-in-command. With nothing to do, or maybe with a secret plan in mind, he looked down on a newly married woman named Bathsheba having a purifying bath on the roof of her home. Without delay he sent for her, satisfied his sexual desires and then sent her home. She sent word back to him that she was pregnant from the afternoon encounter. Bathsheba’s husband was named Uriah and David immediately devised a plan to have her husband be seen to be responsible for the pregnancy. David called Uriah home from the battlefield, wined and dined him and then sent him home that night to be with Bathsheba, his wife. This young man was bewildered and refused to go home. Instead he slept outside the palace.
The king was infuriated that his plan was not working out, so in a fit of anger, he wrote a letter to his military head with instructions on how to place Uriah in the heat of the battle and to make sure that he died there. Moreover, he devised a secret code that a messenger from the battlefield would convey the message that Uriah was dead. Once Uriah was confirmed dead, he then sent for Bathsheba to be his wife. King David was so sure that he got away with his plan, but in Psalm 32, he wrote about how the act of rape, adultery, murder and deceit affected him physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Psalm 51:3-4 - Lost Joy
David had devised a plan that was sweet to his ears, his eyes and to his sexual urges, but he was blind to the consequences that would result from his actions. Thankfully, God sent David’s Spiritual Director, Nathan the prophet to confront him. He carefully crafted the story of a rich man stealing the only lamb of a poor man with the excuse that he needed to feed a visitor to his home. Before Nathan would finish talking, David was ready to seek justice for the poor man and punishment for the rich man. Nathan stated that he was speaking about David’s action towards Uriah. Immediately, he recognized that all of his actions, devised in secret, were recorded under the watchful, all-seeing eye of Yahweh who was present at every step.
In Psalm 32:3-4, King David talked about how his secrecy caused his bones to waste away, he could not sleep day or night and he had no energy. He felt remorse for his sins but was unsure what to do about it. Thankfully, when Nathan, his Spiritual Director confronted him he immediately acknowledged his sin and acknowledged that it was his sin that caused him the loss of joy in his relationship with Yahweh.
Psalm 51:12-13 - Restored Joy
Unconfessed sin will rob you of the joy of your relationship with Yahweh. King David longed to be back in relationship with Yahweh and so when Nathan, his Spiritual Director confronted him, he quickly threw himself wholly on God’s mercy, asking that the relationship be restored. That relationship was restored because David recognized that he was able to hide from the Subjects of his Kingdom, and he could manipulate the second-in-command of the army to carry out his evil devices, but he could not hide from Yahweh. He also realized that unconfessed sin affected him physically, spiritually and emotionally.
Our relationship with Yahweh is a relationship of Unequals. Yahweh is always pursuing us, wanting us to know our sin, to acknowledge our sin and when confronted by a Nathan, to confess our sin and not rationalize our actions. There is always a Nathan willing to help us recognize our sin and willing to teach us that Yahweh is ready and willing to forgive our sin and iniquity. In Psalm 32:7-10 we learn that once sin is confessed we are surrounded with songs of deliverance. We are instructed and taught how to live life a new way, and the watchful eye of Yahweh directs our path. The alternative to restored joy is to make excuses for our sin and then walk away from Yahweh in stubbornness and rebellion.
Psalm 51:14-15 - Celebrate Joy
Under the leadership of Moses, God set out laws to govern the people in their relationship with each other. Each law had a consequence that was to be administered. The punishment for murder was death unless the murder was accidental. In that case, the murderer would seek refuge in one of the designated cities and the elders of that city would decide, based on the evidence of the murderer and the family of the deceased, if it was accidental or not. Some times the family of the deceased would agree on compensation and then the murderer would be free. In the case of adultery, both the man and the woman were to be taken outside of the city and stoned to death.
King David’s punishment was death on both counts. Bathsheba had not willingly committed adultery. David could technically say that he did not kill Uriah. But when Nathan confronted David he asked him the hard question, “Why have you despised Yahweh’s word, to do that which is evil in his sight?” On the surface, it could have been easy for David to defend his actions, but the words of Nathan exposed the secret motives of David’s heart. David responded, “I have sinned against Yahweh.” (You may want to read the full story in II Samuel 12:1-13)
The gavel was just about to drop as David waited for the public sentencing of death for adultery and murder. Nathan speaking as the bearer of God’s judgment said, “Yahweh has put away your sin. You will not die.” Can you hear those words? Yahweh chose not to impose the mandatory death penalty on King David, but offered him the opportunity to live. David jumped at the opportunity to exchange his death sentence for the privilege to celebrate joy and to declare the praises of Yahweh.
In that very moment, King David saw himself, not as King but as a servant waiting for a King to invite him to speak. Bathsheba’s family had the right to seek revenge, and Uriah’s blood cried out from the ground for his death to be avenged. But King David had the promise of protection from Yahweh. His only response was to asked to be delivered emotionally and spiritually from the guilt of bloodshed, and he would use his words to tell of Yahweh’s loving-kindness to all humanity.
During this Fifth Week of Lent, take the opportunity to bring into the open the secret sins that you may be harbouring. You may feel like you have lost the joy of your relationship with Yahweh and you are not sure what will happen if you admit them. Take a lesson from King David. Yahweh will send someone with a Nathan heart to help you bring your secret sins into the open. Acknowledge the sin is first and foremost against Yahweh and it is because you despise Yahweh’s word. Do not try to rationalize your actions by convincing yourself that no one will find out. When you are confronted, be sure to not deny it and do not pass the blame around to others. Feeling remorseful that your secret sins are discovered means that you are not ready to take full responsibility.
Unconfessed sin will rob you of the joy in your relationship with Yahweh yet Yahweh longs for the relationship to be healed. So go ahead, confess your sin and receive absolution, the assurance that you are pardoned. Claim Yahweh’s promise from Romans 8:1-2 (WEB): “So right now there is no condemnation to you who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the Life-Giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death.” Yahweh wants you to learn a new way of thinking and living and only Yahweh can re-create or make new the parts of you that are damaged by sin. In time you will be able to help others to know that Yahweh is a forgiving God.
Our journey towards the empty cross and the empty tomb is because Yahweh commuted the punishment of death for our sins onto His Son Jesus Christ when he died on the cross that first Good Friday. He took the punishment for our sin on the cross so that we might be free to live lives that are pleasing to Yahweh. We may be reminded about our past sins, but like King David, we can ask Yahweh to deliver us from the penalty of our sin and from the power of sin over us. And one day, Yahweh will even deliver us from the presence of sin. Hallelujah! The words then flowing from our lips will celebrate the joy of sins forgiven and restored joy as we share with others the good news of Yahweh!
At the end of this Fifth Week of Lent, please take time to offer a prayer based on these six verses of Psalm 51.
St. Ephrem’s Prayer
O Lord and Master of my life,
remove from me the spirit of sadness, despair,
thirst for power and vain talk.
Instead, grant me, Your servant,
the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.
Indeed, O Lord and King,
grant that I see my own sins and not judge my sister and brother,
for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.