Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we sing with the psalmist:
Poetry: Mary Ann Bernard – Resurrection
Long, long, long ago;
Way before this winter’s snow
First fell upon these weathered fields;
I used to sit and watch and feel
And dream of how the spring would be,
When through the winter’s stormy sea
She’d raise her green and growing head,
Her warmth would resurrect the dead.
Long before this winter’s snow
I dreamt of this day’s sunny glow
And thought somehow my pain would pass
With winter’s pain, and peace like grass
Would simply grow. (But) The pain’s not gone.
It’s still as cold and hard and long
As lonely pain has ever been,
It cuts so deep and fear within.
Long before this winter’s snow
I ran from pain, looked high and low
For some fast way to get around
Its hurt and cold. I’d have found,
If I had looked at what was there,
That things don’t follow fast or fair.
That life goes on, and times do change,
And grass does grow despite life’s pains.
Long before this winter’s snow
I thought that this day’s sunny glow,
The smiling children and growing things
And flowers bright were brought by spring.
Now, I know the sun does shine,
That children smile, and from the dark, cold, grime
A flower comes. It groans, yet sings,
And through its pain, its peace begins.
Music: An Easter Hallelujah – Cassandra and Callahan Star
Today, in Mercy, we join Mary and the disciples as they deal with Christ’s death. No doubt, the range of emotions among them was as great as it would be among any group or family losing someone they dearly loved.
They had entered, with heart-wrenching drama, into a period of bereavement over the loss of Jesus. Doubt, hope, loss, fear, sadness and remembered joy vied for each of their hearts. They comforted one another and tried to understand each other’s handling of their terrible shared bereavement.
They did just what we all do as families, friends and communities when our beloved dies.
But ultimately, our particular bereavement belongs to us alone, woven from the many experiences we have had with the person who has died. These are personal and indescribable, as is the character of our pain and loss.
Do not be afraid of your bereavement. It is a gift of love.
Holy Saturday, like bereavement, is a time of infrangible silence. No matter how many “whys” we throw heavenward, no answer comes. It is a time to test what Love has meant to us and, even as it seems to leave us, how it will live in us.
As we pray today with the bereaved Mother and disciples, let us fold all our bereavements into their love. We already know the joyful end to the story, so let us pray today with honesty but also with unconquerable hope that we will live and love again.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 31, the prayer of one who will not be shaken from faith in God.
For all my foes I am an object of reproach, a laughingstock to my neighbors, and a dread to my friends; they who see me abroad flee from me. I am forgotten like the unremembered dead; I am like a dish that is broken. But my trust is in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God. In your hands is my destiny; rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.”
Psalm 31: 12-13
What is there to say about the Good Friday journey of Jesus? It may be that we can only walk beside him in loving, heart-broken silence.
There are times in our lives when we will be called to walk like this beside others in loving and merciful ministry.
There may be times when others are called to walk with us in such a way.
Let these times inform our prayer today.
Good Friday is the time we gather strength and compassionate understanding from Jesus to help us, in his Name, be Mercy in the world.
Poetry: From “The Dream of the Rood”, one of the Christian poems in the corpus of Old English literature and an example of the genre of dream poetry. Like most Old English poetry, it is written in alliterative verse. Rood is from the Old English word rōd ‘pole’, or more specifically ‘crucifix’. Preserved in the 10th-century Vercelli Book, the poem may be as old as the 8th-century Ruthwell Cross, and is considered as one of the oldest works of Old English literature.
The Rood (cross of Christ) speaks:
“It was long past – I still remember it –
That I was cut down at the copse’s end,
Moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me,
Told me to hold aloft their criminals,
Made me a spectacle. Men carried me
Upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
A host of enemies there fastened me.
“And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
Hasten with eager zeal that He might mount
Upon me. I durst not against God’s word
Bend down or break, when I saw tremble all
The surface of the earth. Although I might
Have struck down all the foes, yet stood I fast.
“Then the young hero (who was God almighty)
Got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
Bold in the sight of many watching men,
When He intended to redeem mankind.
I trembled as the warrior embraced me.
But still I dared not bend down to the earth,
Fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand.
“A rood I was raised up; and I held high
The noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails;
The scars can still be clearly seen on me,
The open wounds of malice. Yet might I
Not harm them. They reviled us both together.
I was made wet all over with the blood
Which poured out from his side, after He had
Sent forth His spirit. And I underwent
Full many a dire experience on that hill.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler’s corpse with clouds
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. All creation wept,
Bewailed the King’s death; Christ was on the cross….
“Now you may understand, dear warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
That far and wide on earth men honor me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offers prayers. On me
The Son of God once suffered; therefore now
I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
Most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.”
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 116 which Walter Bruggemann calls an example of “the performance of thanks”.
How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me? The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
Psalm 116: 12-13
There is a tone of solemn ritual woven through the psalm, just as there is throughout the Holy Thursday liturgies.
The time of waiting and wondering is over. Jesus chooses the Passover meal to formalize his understanding that the time has come to offer his life in an ultimate sacrifice of praise.
Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
It is likely that, during his Last Supper, Jesus would have prayed, and possibly sung, Psalm 116 as part of the ancient Hallel, six thanksgiving prayers included in the Passover rites.
On our behalf, Jesus is about to enflesh in his own life the redemptive promise awaited through the ages. He is about to enact the Great Deliverance — far greater than that achieved in the Passover. By the power of his Paschal sacrifice, we are redeemed from death itself:
Return, my soul, to your rest; the LORD has been very good to you. For my soul has been freed from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living
Psalm 116: 7-9
For me, Holy Thursday is the most solemnly beautiful and meaningful day of the Liturgical Year. There is so much to be found in the readings, especially as we peel back single phrases to hear their living power and love. There is so much to be learned at the side of Jesus as we pray with Him.
May we place ourselves beside Jesus at the holy table of his life. Feel him lay the gathering tensions down as he gathers his beloveds in the truth of this moment. It is time for him to give everything over in love. This is the moment of Holy Acquiescence, this is the moment of Eucharist.
With Jesus, let us pray for the loosening of any bonds which prevent us from giving our lives lovingly into God’s Will for us, from allowing Eucharist to be offered through our lives.
Dear to the eyes of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones. I am your servant, the child of your handmaid; you have loosed my bonds. To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving, and I will call upon the name of the LORD. My vows to the LORD I will pay in the presence of all his people.
Psalm 116: 15-18
Prose: from Mass on the World, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Since once again Lord I have neither bread nor wine nor altar,
I will raise myself beyond these symbols
up to the pure majesty of the real itself.
I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar,
and on it I will offer you
all the labors and the sufferings of the world.
I will place on my paten Lord God
all the harvest to be won from your renewal.
Into my chalice, I shall pour all the sap
which is to be pressed out this day
from the earth’s fruits and from its sufferings.
All the things in the world
to which this day will bring increase;
all those that will diminish;
all those, too, that will die:
all of them, Lord, I try to gather into my arms
so as to hold them out to you in offering.
This is the material of my sacrifice,
the only material you desire.
The restless multitude, confused or orderly,
the immensity of which terrifies us,
this ocean of humanity,
the slow, monotonous wave-flows which trouble the hearts of even those whose faith is most firm.
My paten and my chalice are
the depths of a soul laid widely open
to all the forces which in a moment will rise up
from every corner of the earth
and converge upon the Spirit.
Grant me the remembrance and the mystic presence
of all those whom the light is now awakening to the new day.
Receive, O Lord, this all-embracing Host
which your whole creation, moved by your magnetism,
offers you at this dawn of a new day.Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt cæli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Music: Sanctus – Jessie Norman
(Get someplace where you can turn the sound up for this and let it blow you away. There are some exquisite soft notes, beginning and end, that you don’t want to miss. Wait for them.)
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 69. The verses offered for today’s liturgy describe someone who is abused and abandoned by the community he depended on:
Insult has broken my heart, and I am weak, I looked for sympathy, but there was none; for consolers, not one could I find. Rather they put gall in my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Psalm 69: 21-22
The psalmist goes on, into today’s passage and throughout the whole psalm, to proclaim his innocence and call on God for justice – one might say even vengeance.
Heap punishment upon their punishment; let them gain from you no vindication. May they be blotted from the book of life; not registered among the just!
Psalm 69: 28-29
Several Gospel writers include parts of Psalm 69 to describe Jesus’s situation throughout his Passion and Death. However, we find Jesus not invoking divine vengeance but forgiving those who persecute him.
Does Christ’s forgiveness mean that he didn’t feel heart-broken, angry, perhaps even wishing, as the psalmist does, that the tables would be turned onto his harassers?
We don’t really know what he felt. We can only imagine. What we do know is what Jesus chose. Jesus chose forgiveness.
As we pray with Psalm 69 today, let us remember that we cannot help our feelings. They come unbidden. What we can control are our choices. In the sufferings of our lives, may we have the strength to choose as Jesus did.
Poetry: John Greenleaf Whittier, ‘Forgiveness’
My heart was heavy, for its trust had been Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong; So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men, One summer Sabbath day I strolled among The green mounds of the village burial-place; Where, pondering how all human love and hate Find one sad level; and how, soon or late, Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face, And cold hands folded over a still heart, Pass the green threshold of our common grave, Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart, Awed for myself, and pitying my race, Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave, Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!
Music: Antonio Vivaldi – Domine ad adjuvandum me festina (Psalm 69)
Deus, in adjutorium meum intende. Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina. Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculorum. Amen. Alleluia
O Lord, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end, Amen. Alleluia.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 71, a prayer of yielding and confident faith.
Often thought to be the prayer of an aging David, Psalm 71 recalls a long and steady relationship with God. Even as his youthful vigor wanes, the psalmist declares that his true strength rests in God’s faithfulness.
For you are my hope, O LORD; my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength. My mouth shall declare your justice, day by day your salvation. O God, you have taught me from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
Psalm 71: 15-17
David witnesses to a powerful faith, one that we all might cherish in our human diminishments. It is hard to lose things in our life – youth, health, relationships, reputation, enthusiasm, hope, direction, security. But all of us face at least some of these challenges at some time in our lives.
In our Gospel today, Jesus acknowledges the loss of trust in a close disciple:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant.
That betrayal is a sign to Jesus that the great dream of his earthly ministry is coming to an ignominious close when even those dearest to him slip into betrayal and denial.
What is it that holds Jesus together, heart and soul riveted on the Father’s Will, as he moves through these heart-wrenching days.
Jesus is the living sacrament of complete obedience and union with God. Every choice of his life has brought him to a readiness for this final and supreme act of trusting love. Like the psalmist today, Jesus’s whole life proclaims:
I will always hope in you and add to all your praise. My mouth shall proclaim your just deeds, day after day your acts of deliverance, though I cannot number them all.i I will speak of the mighty works of the Lord; O GOD, I will tell of your singular justice. God, you have taught me from my youth; to this day I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
Psalm 71: 14-17
As we accompany Jesus today, let us pray this psalm with him, asking for an ever-deepening faith, hope, and love.
Poetry: Jesus Weeps – Malcolm Guite
Jesus comes near and he beholds the city And looks on us with tears in his eyes, And wells of mercy, streams of love and pity Flow from the fountain whence all things arise. He loved us into life and longs to gather And meet with his beloved face to face How often has he called, a careful mother, And wept for our refusals of his grace, Wept for a world that, weary with its weeping, Benumbed and stumbling, turns the other way, Fatigued compassion is already sleeping Whilst her worst nightmares stalk the light of day. But we might waken yet, and face those fears, If we could see ourselves through Jesus’ tears.
Music: Long Ago – Michael Hoppé, Tom Wheater, Michael Tillman
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 27 which is a cry for help from one who is confident of God’s care.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?
Despite these verses, the psalmist obviously is afraid, otherwise why pray? As we begin Holy Week, we might imagine Jesus voicing such a prayer. Confident of the Father’s participation in his life, Jesus nevertheless must face daunting realities with courage – but not without fear.
We can learn so much from Jesus in this.
It is a very unusual, and perhaps non-existent, person who has no fears. We all fear something… maybe many things. It is human to fear that which we cannot see, control, or withstand. Even the one touting his great fearlessness is likely afraid of being seen as weak.
What Jesus teaches us is not to let our faith, love and hope be dominated by fear; rather, to engage our lives courageously with these three virtues despite our normal human fears. In so doing, we become the person God hopes for us to be, just as Jesus did.
The triumph is in resisting that domination, not in being fearless. Nelson Mandela has written, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
I think Jesus was afraid during these final days of his life, but he pushed through to the truth of God’s Will for his life. We can ask Jesus to help us in our fears by praying as he might have with Psalm 27:
You are my light and my salvation Whom then shall I fear?
You are the strength of my life of what shall I be afraid?
Trials, enemies, changes, difficulties— they rise up and they resolve
Therefore– I will trust you I will wait for you I will seek you.
transliteration of Psalm 27 by Christine Robinson
Poetry: from T.S. Eliot, Four Quartet, East Coker
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre, The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness, And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away-- Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about; Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing-- I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Music: Be Still My Soul – Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel, born 1697
Today, in Mercy, we enter the sacred embrace of Holy Week.
Last year, about this time, as Jesus began his Paschal journey, we too began a journey whose end we could not foresee. It was a terrible, frightening, and disorienting time. It was also a time of amazing nobility and courage.
Now, this long year later, each one of us has come to a new place, both blessed and tragic. So many have not made it here with us — so many lives lost across the globe, some at our own table. And a way of life, for better or worse, has been left behind forever.
Many of us continued to make this past year’s journey with Jesus, long after Easter had passed. In some ways, all of 2020 was a extended “Passion” with its very real:
Deaths and Burials
Palm Sunday is a feast with two faces.
Jesus rides in triumph into Jerusalem, but his deep heart realizes that the road ultimately leads to his death. Jesus, who once called himself the Vine, knows that the bright green branches waved in adulation will soon be trampled to the ground.
In these final days of Lent, we are faced with the question, “What turns green hope to crumbled brown in us – and how can it be green again?”
Many years ago, I sat in a marbled, flowered funeral home with a bereaved father.
“There are things worse than death,” he said. After several absent years, his drug-addicted son had been found dead in an alley, under the cardboard box where he lived. “At least I know where he is now. Finally, we can all be at peace.”
Jack’s son had been lost to him. In the stranglehold of heroin, the great hope of his young life had degenerated into profound suffering. The vigor of his early dreams had withered, like broken tendrils on the once hopeful vine. It was, in every sense, a human tragedy.
Jesus understood such withering. He prayed for his disciples that they would not suffer it. He knew what would face him and them in the week following the lifted palms. He knows what will face us as we try to discern the honest path to joy, peace and fulfillment.
The enticements of evil are deceptive. Greed comes clothed as entitlement. Lust masquerades as passion, addiction as pleasure. They entwine and choke us in a false embrace that whispers, “This is for you.” Fed by the fear of never having or being enough, we resort to these very catalysts that will destroy us. Even the voice of love struggles to reach someone locked in this cycle of self-absorption. Like every barren branch, they wilt and sever themselves from all that could enliven them.
Jesus acknowledges that the choice for life is not always easy. He tells the disciples that, indeed, they will be pruned. No life escapes the incisions of hard experience. Like his followers, we too will face loss, pain, frustration and diminishment. But if our hearts have been fed by his word, we will hold to grace and we will thrive.
Much of the Palm Sunday crowd shifted gears by Friday, becoming a rabble of accusers. They could not follow Jesus through Calvary to his Resurrection.
But there is no true life apart from God. There is no path to perfection and joy but through God’s Will. The Passion and Death of Jesus have already set our roots in this blessed soil. May we cling by grace to that treasured Vine.
Music: J.S. Bach – Cantata; Himmelskönig, sei willkommen / King of Heaven, be Thou welcome – BWV 182
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray a responsorial from the Book of Jeremiah:
The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards the flock.
The psalm today, with the first reading, brings assurance that God remains with us through suffering and will heal and make us whole again.
That reassurance is needed as we hear the Gospel’s tone darken. After the raising of Lazarus, the whole nation waits to see what will happen to Jesus as Passover nears.
I think, in some ways, impending doom is almost worse than doom itself. Picture the part in a movie where the attacker waits in the dark while the victim tiptoes into lurking danger.
That frightening music they always play! Sometimes the tension heightens to the point that I have to hit the mute or close my eyes!
This is what all surrounding Jerusalem felt like in today’s Gospel. The dark edge of evil hangs in inevitable threat.
But for Jesus, who walked in the hidden light of the Father, the moment brought more than threatening shadows. It was time to fulfill an ancient promise. It was time to offer the greatest act of Love.
Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, proclaim it on distant isles, and say: He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together, he guards them as a shepherd his flock. The LORD shall ransom Jacob, he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Jeremiah 31: 10-12
As Jesus went off alone to Ephraim to prepare his heart and soul for this ultimate fulfillment, perhaps a prayer from Jeremiah strengthened him, a remembered promise from Ezekiel focused him.
Let us pray with Jesus today as he asks the Father to “shepherd” him. With Jesus, may we find our own strengths and understandings in these ancient prophets.
Poetry: Redemption by George Herbert (1593-1633)who was a Welsh-born poet, orator, and priest of the Church of England. His poetry is associated with the writings of the metaphysical poets, and he is recognised as “one of the foremost British devotional lyricists.”
Having been tenant long to a rich lord,
Not thriving, I resolvèd to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.
In heaven at his manor I him sought;
They told me there that he was lately gone
About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possessiòn.
I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
In cities, theaters, gardens, parks, and courts;
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 18. It is a royal psalm, full of triumph, praise and rejoicing. But the psalmist, presumably David, never forgets the depths from which he has been delivered. He remembers the “storm” from which he called out to God.
The psalmist imagines God, in the distant temple, hearing his cry and responding. The image brought to my mind the memory of an early morning prayer time when I was a very young nun.
An hour or so before dawn, I looked out my window to the morning star, imagining God out there in the heavens. Like David, I presumed God was distant and needed to be called into my experience. But, on that morning, I realized that God was not distant – that God was within me, my life, and the very storm I was praying about.
I still love to look out to the stars while I pray. But since that morning, I imagine God sitting beside me, enjoying the same beauty – sorting through my life with me from within my own heart. Verse 29 makes me think that David came to a similar realization:
Poetry: Go Not to the Temple – Ravindranath Tagore
Go not to the temple to put flowers upon the feet of God, First fill your ownhouse with the Fragrance of love and kindness.
Go not to the temple to light candles before the altar of God, First remove the darkness of sin , pride and ego, from your heart…
Go not to the temple to bow down your head in prayer, First learn to bow in humility before your fellowmen. And apologize to those you have wronged.
Go not to the temple to pray on bended knees, First bend down to lift someone who is down-trodden. And strengthen the young ones. Not crush them.
Go not to the temple to ask for forgiveness for your sins, First forgive from your heart those who have hurt you!
Music: Christ Be Beside Me – St. Patrick’s Breastplate adapted by Michael Foscher