Psalm 51 symbolizes this season of repentance and reflection and at the same time its use as a liturgy of confession illustrates the need for A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church. The Church has long prayed this psalm without its first verse, the verse that frames the psalm as a confession for the sexual abuse of a woman, for David’s rape of Bathsheba. (For a detailed explication of the signs of rape rather than consent in the narrative, see the corresponding chapter in Womanist Midrash.) That act of liturgical editorial censure testifies to how the Church treats women in and out of the scriptures, silencing us, repackaging our stories so they will be more palatable and, ignoring acts of violence against us especially by people we are supposed to revere. Let the Church repent for all its sin without taking one back from the altar of confession and clutching it to its breast to retain for use at a later time.
The Ash Wednesday readings in the lectionary reflect the use of Psalm 51 in the liturgy and so offer another psalm with the preaching texts. These lessons include a prophet’s traditional call to repentance and fasting and a reminder of the limits of our mortality in the psalm along with the reminder that we are dust in the epistle and, a teaching from Jesus on avoiding showy displays of our prayer and fasting.