The ashes of this day remind us that we are mortal. Our life is short and fleeting. We wither under your righteous anger against sin. Because sin is so disgusting in your holy sight, and such a perversion of the good world you created, you were right to decree that all sin must be destroyed. Your judgment upon Adam was right, when he doubted your good will and ate the fruit you commanded him not to eat, and you gave him the death penalty for his sin. Ever since then, we have continued in our first parents’ corruption, ever doubting your good will and ever doing what you have forbidden. And how could we do anything else, for we were born of sinful parents, and we have inherited their corrupted bodies and their sinful souls. Truly, we deserve to wither under your wrath and finally give up the life we have spent in ungrateful rebellion, forever after to suffer in hell as the just punishment for our sins. “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return,” you said to Adam. You have never failed to bring this curse upon all who have been born from Adam’s sinful line. We all wither and die. And we all have proven in our lives that our suffering is deserved, and our death warranted. You looked at the human race and pronounced in the words of Scripture, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.”
Our dear Father, if we would think only of the ways that we have so selfishly neglected your Word, and so despised the blessings you would give us through studying its words; and we think of how we have failed on so many occasions to teach our children to love your Word and to trust you as their God–we would be terrified to call you our dear Father. But there is more! We have also broken every one of your commandments, in thought, word and deed. Sometimes we have been careless, and we might try to excuse ourselves; but many many times we have done it intentionally, and sometimes, though we would not admit it, we have done it gladly. Dear Father, have mercy on us, or we will be destroyed in your anger!
There is still more, dear Father. We have stood by and watched, and even approved of others as they sin against you. Even by our silence, they will assume that we approve. Since they know that we are Christians, they have surely also assumed that you must approve also, or at least that you will be silent like we are. By our silence we have sent them on their way to hell in peace. Instead of defending your reputation, we have joined them in their rebellion, and we have done this because we dread their anger more than yours. Surely you have been betrayed by all of your people; and if you were like us, your terrible anger would burn against us and destroy us. Dear Father, have mercy on us, or we will be destroyed in your anger!
There is still more, dear Father. In spite of all our horrible sins, we actually manage to forget how we daily sin against you. Then, when we suffer, we are enraged that you would let such horrible things happen to us. We are so arrogant that we accuse you of doing wrong. Our anger burns against you. In our anger we dare to question you for the sufferings which we ourselves have created and we have deserved by our sinful lives. But it was not you who made the world evil. We did that. We deserve to drink every drop of the cup we have poured for ourselves. Have mercy, dear Father, and protect us from suffering the full extent of the evil we have brought into the world.
Still we have more, dear Father. Sometimes you bring trouble and affliction to your dear children, because you want us to stay close to you and look to you for our salvation. Once again, we arrogantly question your goodness. When we stop to think about it, we realize how utterly sinful we are for questioning our dear Father’s wisdom, as you teach us to remove our love for this sinful world and our love for our mortal life, and place our love instead in you and the eternal life you have promised us through faith in your Son. How could we be so ungrateful for your loving discipline? How could we be so blind that we don’t see your goodness in our suffering? We are exactly like our first father, Adam, who doubted your good will for him.
Dear Father, there is so much more that we could and should confess to you. We have not begun to dredge the depths of our sinful depravity. We have not even begun to confess our sins against the 5th Commandment, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, or 10th. If we had to confess everything, there would be no end to our confession–for even the good things we do are smudged with the dirty fingerprints of sin. We are naturally selfish people, and we can scarcely do anything good without seeking to be recognized and thanked. Everything that comes from our heart is stained with sin. Have mercy, dear Father, and cleanse us, or there will be nothing in us that you will find pleasing. Our hearts simply cannot bear the thought of our sin any more. We thirst for your mercy.
Since there is no hope for us to do anything to please you, and no hope that we will ever quiet our sinful heart from prompting us to rebel against you, and since the sins we have already committed are more than enough to warrant the eternal death penalty; have mercy on us dear Father. Once again, assure us that the blood of your Son paid our death penalty, and that his righteous life will be credited to us in the judgment. Through the preaching of your Word this day, assure us that our sins have been forgiven, and that you will rescue us from death and give us eternal life. In remembering our Baptism, remind us that we have been clothed with Christ and joined to him, so that his fate has become ours. Then, when we suffer in this sinful world, we will know that there is a resurrection and everlasting life waiting for us at the end of it all. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, may we be assured that all of this is ours, just has we have recieved Christ’s true body and blood, and every spiritual blessing that comes with him in this bread and wine. Finally, since we are so weakened by our sinful mind, the sinful world, and the devil’s temptations, we will need to be reminded often of your gracious pardon. Remain with us, and strengthen us through your Word and Sacraments until the end. We pray all this, confident because Jesus’ blood has covered our sins, and he has promised that you will hear us. Amen.