Background picture of pebbles with the words: A liturgy for the forgiveness of bloodguilt (based on Psalm 51) | Faith in Grey Places

A liturgy for the forgiveness of bloodguilt (based on Psalm 51)

It so happens that the revised common lectionary puts readings from Psalm 51 and 1 Timothy 1:12-17 on the same day. It’s year C, on the 19th Sunday in ordinary time.

In each of them, the authors reflect on their bloodguilt – the guilt of shedding innocent blood.

Below I’ve written a liturgy that congregations can use to pray for forgiveness of any guilt they may bear for shedding blood. First, I’ll give a little context.

Biblical background and relevance for today

King David wrote Psalm 51 after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Uriah the Hittite ‘killed in battle’. Paul’s letter was written in the knowledge that he, as Saul, had persecuted the early church. 

There are two curious similarities in their stories. 

First, neither of them directly murdered their victims.

David tried to trick Uriah into sleeping with Bathsheba, so he would believe he was the father of Bathsheba’s unborn baby. When that didn’t work, he had Uriah sent to the frontlines of battle, where the fighting was fiercest. Where he would have no hope of survival.

Similarly, the in book of Acts, Paul did not take directly part in the stoning of the apostle Stephen; he oversaw it, looking after the cloaks of those who were casting stones. 

Even though these men did not bear the weapon themselves, they bore the bloodguilt. 

This raises a question for me. If we support policies and political decisions that cost people their livelihoods, that cause such civil unrest that these people take up arms against each other – do we share in that bloodguilt? Arguably we do. 

The second similarity between David and Paul that I observed is that they both believed that God could remove their bloodguilt, even whilst sparing their lives.

This is actually quite remarkable. The Old Testament law said nothing could remove the guilt of shedding innocent blood, other than the death (blood) of the perpetrator (Number 35:33). So the fact that David could pray for his bloodguilt to be removed, was indeed an incredible act of faith. Arguably, it foreshadowed what Paul came to understand about Jesus and the atoning, saving work of the cross. 

And of course, if that kind of forgiveness was possible for them, then it is also possible for us. 


The liturgy

(Words in normal type are to be read by the person leading; words in bold are to be said by the congregation.)

Have mercy upon us, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies.
Blot out our transgressions, 
Wash us thoroughly from our iniquity,
And cleanse us from our sin.

Deliver us from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
For you are the God of our salvation.

We acknowledge our transgressions,
And our sin is always before us.
We sin against you, when we sin against our neighbour
And do evil in Your sight—
But you are always found to be just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.

Deliver us from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
For you are the God of our salvation.

For we were born to a people that practices iniquity
We were conceived during generations of sin
But You desire truth in the innermost parts,
Make wisdom known in the hidden parts of our lives.
Purge us with hyssop, and we shall be clean;
Wash us, and we shall be whiter than snow.

Deliver us from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
For you are the God of our salvation.

Bring to us the sound of joy and gladness,
That the bones You have broken may rejoice.
Hide Your face from our sins,
And blot out all our iniquities.
Then my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.

Create in each of us a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast us away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from us.
Restore to us the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold us by Your generous Spirit.
Then we will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You.

Create in each of us a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

O Lord, open our lips,
And our mouths shall show forth Your praise.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else we would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.

Create in each of us a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Here is good news for all who put their trust in Christ.
Jesus says: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Amen. Thanks be to God.


Further reading

I specifically wrote this after hearing Pádraig Ó Tuama speak. He’s an Irish man who used to lead a peace-making ministry in the Corymeela Community in Ireland. Their website is here. They’re also on Facebook.

I would also highly recommend his book Sorry For Your Troubles. Per the Canterbury Press website, “This second poetry collection arises out of a decade of his hearing stories of people who have lived through personal and political conflict in Northern Ireland, the Middle East and other places of conflict.”

Youtube has a number of videos of him speaking about reconciliation. For examples The Complicated Art of Reconciliation at Victoria University of Wellington.


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