“Cleanse Me, Wash Me”
Psalm 51:7 – February 26, 2020
Some people do not care for washing clothes. I don’t mind it. In fact, I rather enjoy the whole process. I remember both of my parents—who grew up in Chicago during the 1920’s and ‘30’s, told me about their moms who had wringer washers. Their moms would wash the families’ clothes, and wring them out down in the basements of the buildings where they lived. My mom had a wringer washer, too, until she died in 2002. I used to run clothes through the wringer sometimes, when I went to her house to help out.
As we read the Psalm for this evening, I wonder—did King David think of the times he watched his mother and other women washing the clothes in the village where he grew up? The words David uses are so vivid and descriptive, I can’t help but wonder!
But more than just washing clothes, King David was dealing with some pretty serious sins. He had lusted after a married woman, summoned her to his palace, slept with her and gotten her pregnant, and then killed her husband. All with little or no apparent guilt—at first.
When the prophet Nathan called out King David for all of these compounded sins, David finally gets it. He finally is overcome with the audacity and hugeness of his sins. It is then he comes to God and begs God to forgive him of his sin.
As I just said, I do not think any of us has committed sins of the magnitude of King David. However—that does not change the fact that all of us, each of us, sins. Each of us does things, says things, even thinks things that displease God.
I suspect when King David was a boy, he would watch the women of his village washing their clothes in a stream, or perhaps in a vat of water. Perhaps if the clothes soaked in a vat of soap suds, the village boys might be asked to lend a hand and stir the wet clothes awhile, to agitate them and loosen up the dirt. When we consider ourselves and the sins we commit against the Lord, is this similar? Are our sins agitated by a heavenly agitator? Is all that dirt and sinfulness loosened up in the soapy suds of our lives?
What about the things we do, say, and think that really aren’t “too bad?” You know, all that stuff that the world tells us is okay? All of the sins or transgressions that are just little fibs, or seem like little speed bumps, or that we explain away by saying “everybody’s doing it—it’s okay! Isn’t it?”
Here in Psalm 51, David is filled with remorse at the gravity of his sin. True, fornication, adultery and murder are pretty big whoppers in anyone’s book. But, if we read the words of this psalm, they are hauntingly familiar to us and our broken hearts. “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;”
I don’t know about you, but when I read these words, I feel the sin and yuckiness of my iniquities all over me. I need to have the forgiveness of God wash me clean and make me whiter than snow. That’s what King David asks for, too.
David goes even further, and asks “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” The plant hyssop was used in David’s day as an aromatic purifier, in a similar way that people used mint, marjoram and similar scented herbs. When Martin Luther translated this psalm, he used the phrase “un-sin me with hyssop.” Take my sin away, Lord! Make me smell minty fresh and clean again!
I know for a fact that Martin Luther had many, continuing struggles in his life with his personal sin. He regularly confessed his sins to God and to his spiritual director, his father confessor. Translating Psalm 51 was probably a very intense, personal experience for him. We can say with Martin, “un-sin each of us with hyssop, Lord. Cleanse us, loosen the dirt of sin with Your heavenly agitator, and make us whiter than snow.”
Please turn to hymn number 436. Let us read together the first verse of that hymn, “Whiter Than Snow.”
“Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole; I want Thee forever to live in my soul. Break down every idol, cast out every foe. Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow—Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”
The best part is that our God welcomes everyone who comes with a contrite heart and spirit. Come to God now, confessing those dark places and spaces in our lives and hearts, those times we have said unkind words, and done thoughtless actions, even thought evil thoughts. Bring them to our Lord, knowing that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Amen, and amen!