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By W. TERENCE ERBELE
My first thought, when I heard Carrie Underwood singing “Dirty Laundry,” was how true. The concept is not new: “All the Ajax in the world ain’t gonna clean your dirty laundry.” She lists the clues: The lipstick on the shirt collar is not her shade of pink, the wine stain is inexplicable since neither of them drink red wine, the perfume smells $40 cheaper than hers, sneaking home late at night.
Truth be told, we all have some form of dirty laundry that no detergent can even begin to unsoil. Perhaps another song should be composed: “All the Ajax in the world ain’t gonna clean nobody’s dirty laundry.” (I know the syntax is bad but it sounds more country).
The problem is as old as humanity. In Job we read: "I am accounted wicked. Why then should I toil in vain? If I should wash myself with snow and cleanse my hands with lye, yet you would plunge me into the pit.” Jeremiah wrote: “‘Although you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your iniquity is before me,’ declares the Lord God.”
All the Ajax ain’t gonna clean your dirty laundry, but there is an agent that will. I John 1:7 declares that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s son, cleanses us from all sin, and in Ephesians 1:7 we find, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace.” During the Last Supper Jesus passed the cup and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The revelator describes the saints in heaven wearing robes that have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.
There is much symbolism in baptism. We identify with the death and resurrection of Christ. We celebrate new birth. We announce that we are being made a new creation. It also reminds us that, by the grace of God, we are washed.
Unfortunately, and yet, predictably, the song diverts into a motif of determined vengeance, which is well deserved. You’ve got dirty laundry and it is going to be clothes pinned to the line. I am going to hang you out to dry and when the neighbors notice I will tell them every sordid detail.
Praise God! We are offered mercy instead of vengeance. As dirty as our laundry may be, God loves you and me and prefers to not give us what we deserve. Instead of clothes pinning our dirty laundry to the line, God sent his Son who bore our sins on the cross. Jesus was hung out to dry in our place. Amazing grace!
No wonder there are so many hymns with phrases celebrating the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb and the loss of all our guilty stains when plunged to victory beneath that cleansing flood.
All the Ajax in the world — in fact, nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness — ain’t gonna clean your dirty laundry.
God’s forgiveness is to be extoled and will be cherished throughout eternity. Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant makes one stop and reflect, as does the Lord’s Prayer. On the one hand, we are encouraged to ask for and receive by faith the free gift of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. On the other hand, Jesus teaches us to ask for forgiveness of sins, (debts, trespasses) just as we forgive those who have offended us.
The Rev. W. Terence Erbele is a pastor of the United Methodist Church.