With a Song in my Heart – 40 Days of Sacred Songs
Day 36 – Tuesday in Holy Week
To Listen: There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
(This video is very special to me as many good friends from Ipswich are in the congregation. Chief among them being my friend Eddy Phillip’s mum. She is the tiny always smiling grey-haired woman with the rosy cheeks and the purple blouse. Look out for her at both the beginning and end of the video)
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heav’n;
there is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgement giv’n.
For the love of God is broader
than the scope of human mind,
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make his love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify his strictness
with a zeal he will not own.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.
If our love were but more simple,
we should take him at his word;
and our lives would be all gladness
in the joy of Christ our Lord.
(Frederick William Faber)
From the Scriptures:
…But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30 Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37 He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
If you want to spend time in Holy Week working out what vicarious suffering means and costs, there is perhaps no better starting place than WH Vanstone’s seminal book The Stature of Waiting. The part that drew me in to it was his description of how, in his younger years, he heard the Passion preached on Good Friday. He describes a way of preaching whereby the congregation is invited to look at each of the characters by turn and learn lessons from their action or inaction, their bravery or their cowardice, their faithfulness or their denial and betrayal.
Vanstone goes on to explore how we often give people, especially Judas, labels which means we cannot always see how God works through our betrayals, denials, inadequacies, and misdeeds (cf John11v49-52). It seems that, no matter what we intend, God redeems and along the way restores all things to Godself. I won’t ruin the story by going any further suffice it to say that even Judas has a place in God’s plan. After all he is the only person whom we know shared a kiss with Jesus..
No matter how far away we are from God’s love, God waits patiently for us to return home, searches the house upside down to find us in the middle of our lostness, and goes hunting amongst the thickets and thorns to find sheep (that are often labelled as ‘Black’) to bring them back safe into the sheepfold. There is indeed a Wideness in God’s Mercy that the Church and her members are not always eager to imitate. We know, even from the Old Testament, that our Creator, echoed by our Beloved, desires mercy not sacrifice (Hosea 6v6), yet it seems that churches can be heavy on judgement and light on mercy. It’s almost as if, even though we know His awe-full bloody death covered our sins and won our redemption, we still want to make sinners suffer instead of helping them find forgiveness.
The love our Beloved brings has never been about judgement nor sacrifice but about mercy and redemption. Often we are tempted to read only part of the Gospel of God’s love. Something which was drawn to my attention one late night in the wrong end of Johannesburg when, out of the kindness of my (self-righteous) heart I gave two sex workers a lift to their home. Discovering that I was a priest they told me about their love for the Bible. I nodded and, without trying to sound too cynical, said, ‘that’s good’. ‘Yes’ they went on ‘We even have a favourite scripture verse from John Chapter 3’. I interrupted and said, ‘Verse 16?’ They responded ‘no mfundisi, verse 17’….
Even Judas had his feet washed by Jesus and was one of the first to receive the sacrament of our Beloved’s Body and Blood. If Jesus can be this merciful towards the one who handed him over to be crucified can we not be merciful to those who do not measure up to our standards? For if we can do that then perhaps we can even accept that God is merciful towards us?
In a letter to the Church Times Published at Easter last year, Bishop John Inge recalls a conversation with a group of schoolchildren who had been asked what Jesus was doing in hell between his death and resurrection. After a pause a child replies, ‘I think he was looking everywhere for his friend Judas’.
This Holy Week let us be like Jesus and ‘look everywhere’ to welcome those who in need of God’s wide mercy, even if it means we may have to look in the mirror.
deliver us from a world without justice
and a future without mercy;
in your mercy, establish justice,
and in your justice, remember the mercy
revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
1) Is there a ‘Black Sheep’ in your family? Someone who is ‘beyond the pale’? Make a point of giving them some extra love before Easter. (If you are the ‘Black Sheep’ of the family try to love those who have not loved you a little bit)
2) Make John 3v17 your prayer at the end of the day until Easter Day.
Reprise: Christ, be our Light
We are frail people filled to overflowing with a mixed bag of good intentions, personal ambition, and downright orneriness. We know, as we are reminded in the Letter to the Romans, that we are wretched and are in need of a Saviour to help lead us from darkness to light. This hymn gives us some pointers to what we can become when we allow Christ to be our light.
Longing for light, we wait in darkness.
Longing for truth, we turn to you.
Make us your own, your holy people,
light for the world to see.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts,
shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in your church
Longing for peace, our world is troubled
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has power to save us.
Make us your living voice.
Longing for food, many are hungry.
Longing for water, many still thirst.
Make us your bread, broken for others,
shared until all are fed.
Longing for shelter, many are homeless.
Longing for warmth, many are cold.
Make us your building, sheltering others
walls make of living stone.
Many the gifts, many the people,
many the hearts that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another,
making your kingdom come.
Please Note: These reflections are also published on my blog: suffolkvicarhomes.com on Twitter as @SuffolkVicar, and on my public Facebook page Rev Andrew Dotchin
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Prayers are adapted from the Psalm Prayers in the Common Worship Psalter. material from which is included here, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2005
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘With a Song in my Heart’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2022