Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in me a new and contrite heart, that worthily lamenting my sins and acknowledging my wretchedness, I may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Almighty God, you have created me out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to me a sign of my mortality and penitence, that I may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ my Savior. Amen1

The glorious thing about this collect, and all the prayers of Lent, is that they presume a loss of zeal. Over time we get comfortable in our sins. They become a part of who we are, a portion of the spiritual architecture of our lives. They are a limp we get used to walking with. 

Ash Wednesday (and Lent) is a call to remember our first love, the pursuit of holiness that may have marked the first years of our journey with God. Sin must become repulsive again. 

We need new hearts set aflame with love for God. 

The logic of this prayer is not strictly soteriological. It’s true that, in the end, God will forgive us of all kinds of sins of which we are unaware. Grace will triumph. But this prayer shows us we cannot be healed of sins we refuse to acknowledge. There is no greater joy or relief than to know we are forgiven by God. 

The first step in receiving that forgiveness is seeing our sins for what they are. In order to do that, we need hearts that are made new over and over again, because untended our hearts grow cold and unresponsive. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to show us the ways we have failed. 

Lent, then, is about facing our failures. But we do not encounter a God who begrudgingly forgives our sins despite his better judgment. The apostle Paul says God is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). This phrase evokes the divine name God revealed to Moses when he asked to see God’s glory. God told Moses he was the Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). 

Instead of becoming a source of despair, our sin becomes the arena of God’s glory. He doesn’t have barely enough grace to forgive us. He is rich in the stuff; it overflows from his very nature. Ash Wednesday invites an introspection that leads to an acknowledgment of our sin that collides with an explosion of God’s grace. No step in this process can be skipped.

  1. Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church: Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of the Episcopal Church. Seabury Press, 1979. ↩︎

Adapted from Lent by Esau McCaulley. ©2022 by Esau Daniel McCaulley. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.

Text First Published November 2022 · Last Featured on February 2024