Loving Mercy

I woke up this morning.

I know that sounds pretty obvious. But I’ve found throughout my life that it’s usually the obvious things that need to be looked into. This morning I woke up, I ate breakfast, drank my coffee, got in the shower, and now here I am, sitting and writing this in a nice room, unhurried, unmolested, quiet.

What first comes to mind when I peruse deeper into these facts isn’t, like the lines touted on some commercial for WorldVision or other philanthropic endeavor: “Here you are in splendor, while so many in the world have nothing.” That’s true. It bears thought. But I don’t think this is where we need to begin if we’re going to mine this experience for the gold we may find in it.

No, the thought that first comes to my mind is, “I’m a sinner.” I woke up this morning, having squandered so many days before today; I woke up this morning, having hurt people that I loved, having hated people I never really knew; I woke up this morning, though over and over again throughout my life I have offended an infinitely holy God, hating the One Who has loved me more than anyone ever possibly could. And yet, I woke up this morning.

Some of you may read this and think that I am being too morose. But I’m not. I’m in awestruck wonder that I woke up this morning. I’m amazed that despite everything I’ve ever done, I opened my eyes. I’m astounded that even though I have been so unmerciful in the past, God still shows me mercy. God still loves me. God is still my best Friend. God still shakes me awake in the morning and says, “Good morning, son. Let’s go do this day together.” I wake up, my eyes all puffy from the sleep still clinging to them; my bones crack and pop as I roll off my mattress; my hands slowly open the pages of my Psalter; and there, this morning, in my daily reading cycle, I read Psalm 51, and I weep at the great mercy I’ve been shown.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”

According to Your steadfast love. Not according to my love that is so often mixed with greed and so easily drawn away by other lovers. Don’t forgive me because I love You, God. My love is weak, fragile, and in a very real sense, broken. But I do love You. I cannot receive Your love without loving You. You are the haven in which my restless heart finds rest. And for my sins, I am sorry. I know them well. They are ever before me – I have nightmares about the places you’ve rescued me from. Forgive me, not because I love You, but because Your love for me is steadier than the stars, more steadfast than the rising of the sun.

According to Your abundant mercy. Blot them out. Wherever they are recorded, blot them out. I don’t have to beg for mercy at Your table, like a dog begging for scraps. You’ve picked me up and carried me to Your table. You have set me down and fed me from Your abundant feast. I eat the Bread of Your mercy, and the Cup of Your salvation runs over. As abundant as my sins are, so much more abundant is the feast to which You have brought me. And there, feasting upon Your flesh, drinking Your blood, I taste and see that You are good, my only good, and I realize what the Psalmist said when He wrote, “Whom have I in heaven but You, and on earth I desire nothing besides You.”

I read on, seeing more clearly because my eyes have been cleaned with tears of bittersweet joy. I mourn my sins; I rejoice because of Your great love that wipes them all away, and I am born anew each morning, having passed through the womb of the night, into the new life of a new day.

I set down the Psalter. I take up my hymnal, and turn to 316 – “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote this one. How strangely beautiful it is that two friends could be separated by hundreds of years, even by the grave, and yet both our hearts sing freely, “What language shall I borrow, to thank Thee, dearest Friend, for this, Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O, make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love to Thee.” And there it is. The singular desire of my life – to be fully Yours, forever. Beyond this life. Beyond my coming death. Beyond my entrance into glory. Yours. Always Yours.

My tears flow freely as I sing. What a gift are the tears of joy in the Lord! There are none so pure. They are the water which flowed with the blood from the pierced side of our Lord. Weeping is a sacrament not listed in most catechisms, but what a blessed means of grace it becomes when indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

I turn back to a reading of my friend Bernard that I had read yesterday. A beautiful word: “It is fellow-sufferers that readily feel compassion for the sick and the hungry. For just as pure truth is seen only by the pure of heart, so also a brother’s miseries are truly experienced only by one who has misery in his own heart. You will never have real mercy for the failings of another until you know and realize you have the same failings in your soul.”[1]

God has brought me to love Him, not simply because He is good to me, but because He is good. May I love my neighbor because my neighbor is good? No. If I’m looking in my neighbor for some bright reasons to love him or her, I may never find them. No matter how beautiful, how kind, how full of wonderment I find them, there will always be some detraction, some brokenness.

But I am broken. I, like them, bear the image of God, but it is a cracked image; it has been since the Fall. But, I, like them, am loved beyond my ability to possibly comprehend. I was carried to the table, because I was lame, unable to approach God unless He drew me to Himself. I am not better than them because I sit at the table. I am unlovable, and yet still loved. And I recognize the reason why my cup overflows with the abundant wine of mercy. It’s for them. It’s for my neighbor. And I love them now, seeing them and myself more clearly. And I long to show them the mercy that has been shown to me. I long to invite them to the table, invite them to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. The abundance of mercy, the feast of goodness, is too much for me, because it is not meant for me alone.

Come and eat your fill. Come and drink. Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! I am alive with joy as I sing the words of the prophet. I feel as happy as the Ghost of Christmas Present, inviting all to the feast! I love this mercy! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. You have nothing to bring. You have no good works to purchase the feast. But still, the feast is laid out for you by the hands of the Lover of your soul. You are not called to pay; it is done. You are called to the table to feast on His mercy.

His mercy is for all who are thirsty. This mercy I love. This mercy I delight to show. Love to the loveless. Food to the hungry. Clothes to the naked. Mercy to all.

[1] Bernard of Clairvaux, The Steps of Humility and Pride, trans. by M. Ambrose Conway OCSO (Trappist, KY: Cistercian Publications, 1973), 35.

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