We Need A Little Mercy NowPosted: April 12, 2017
Recently, Lynn and I were privileged to travel to the Holy Land with our good Methodist people from across the Nashville Area. You will remember three years ago my trip was cut short by an untimely fall near Jericho which landed me in the hospital. So, it was good to get to go back and experience the entirety of the “land of the Bible.”
It was a marvelous experience and my heart was full as I walked from the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, on down to the Holy City. What’s more, walking the Via Dolorosa and stopping at the stations of the cross brought home again the agony of Holy Week.
I often reflect during Holy Week how we see the humanity and divinity of Jesus comingled in the events between Palm Sunday and Easter. Fredrick Buechner in his work, The Faces of Jesus, writes:
“WHAT YOU ARE GOING to do,” Jesus says, “do quickly.” What Judas is going to do, he does in a garden, but though he goes about it as quickly as he can, there is a little time to wait before he gets there. It is night, and they are all tired. Jesus tells them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death,” and then asks the disciples to stay and watch for him while he goes off to pray. One thinks of the stirring and noble way others have met their deaths—the equanimity of Socrates as he raised the hemlock to his lips, the exaltation of Joan as they bound her to the stake, Nathan Hale’s “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Jesus sounds like none of them. Maybe it is because it is to the ones who are most fully alive that death comes most unbearably. His prayer is, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will but what thou wilt,” this tormented muddle of a prayer which Luke says made him sweat until it “became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” He went back to find some solace in the company of his friends then, but he found them all asleep when he got there. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he said, and you feel that it was to himself that he was saying it as well as to them.
I’ve often thought about what it must have been like for Jesus to want to hang out with his closest friends only to discover they could not remain awake long enough to be present to him.
If you have ever tried to remain present when the pain or suffering or grief is as thick as molasses in January, you begin to understand why the disciples could not bear up under the weight of the moment. It’s just the way God has wired us—to protect us from trauma that is often too deep for words.
How many times in a weak moment have we muttered the words, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I acknowledge I often feel weak in the face of innocent suffering. I often feel as if I do not have the proper words when I walk into a hospital room and the diagnosis is difficult. I have always found comfort in the words of Henri Nouen when he spoke of the ministry of presence in his book, The Wounded Healer. Generations of clergy of been helped with that word. There’s nothing worse in such moments than to say the wrong thing.
I felt powerless and helpless this week as I read about the Coptic Christian Church in Egypt that was attacked on Palm Sunday. I felt helpless in the face of the chemical attack on innocent civilians in Syria. I felt helpless when I read this morning that there are at least four places in the world where hunger is so devastating that children are dying daily. And even as they are dying, there are still more dying from war. It’s one of the most helpless feelings I have had in a long, long time.
This week a colleague asked me to read a blog post he was considering by asking me if it was too dark. I said, “No. After all, it’s Holy Week.”
Holy Week. A time when, all too often, tragedy and suffering are visited on our world.
Good Friday. A time when we remember the suffering and death of Jesus.
The paradox is that the darkest day in history we call “good.” And yet we have the audacity to believe that we could have Easter without Good Friday.
Without Good Friday, there would be no empty tomb. Without Good Friday, the disciples would simply have returned home to the work they knew so well. Without Good Friday, we would be without the possibility of new life. Without Good Friday, without Easter morning, we would be devoid of the faith that believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
There are times these days when I think about the future of the United Methodist Church that my faith wavers. But then, somewhere in the midst of God’s great grace, there springs forth out of the barren soil of winter a crocus. Someone will reach down and offer a cup of cold water to parched lips. A miracle will appear out of nowhere. Grace will fall fresh on the world. A college student will say yes to the call of Christ on her life to pursue ordained ministry. God will make a way where I cannot see a way.
Late this afternoon one of our pastors called to tell me about a conversation he had with one of his confirmands. A twelve-year-old young girl, sat across from her pastor and said, “I think God may want me to be a minister.” As he told me the story, chill bumps formed on my forearms as I marveled at the way God continues to move in the hearts and minds of our young. All because a pastor took the time to listen to the heart of this twelve year old. She’s not thinking about the future of the denomination. She’s thinking about how she can serve God. Would that our eyes be that focused-on Jesus! The witness of this pastor dispelled for a moment, all my fear and anxiety. In that moment, I heard Jesus whisper in my ear, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Since moving to Nashville, I’ve been introduced to musical artists that I had not previously known. One of those is Mike Farris. He has a great song, “Mercy Now.” At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all need? We need a little mercy now. It is my prayer for you this week, that you will pause and reflect on what you need to leave at the cross so that on Easter you might rise and sing with all the saints in glory, the resurrection song…a song that will bring mercy to you, even in the darkest of nights.