Recently I have been struck by three lines in the Caleb prayer for Wales. They go like this: ‘Oh High King of Heaven, have mercy on our land. Revive your church.’ Every time I pray those words, something rises in my heart and I picture God’s people pouring out his mercy and grace in every situation they find themselves in.
I don’t know why but for years I realise I have thought of God having mercy on our land as some ethereal, theological concept; a transaction that takes place ‘in heaven’ (wherever that is!), resulting in some cosmic sort of absence of God’s wrath. And look, I am guessing there are elements of truth in that, but the more time I spend with him, the more I realise there is Oh, so much more to it than that!
I looked at the beatitudes again the other day, so often I have read them as comforting words of reassurance of my own place in God’s love. But then it occurred to me that this was Jesus’ description of the things that matter to God, he was saying God notices this stuff and he cares and responds in this way. And then the question came strong and soft; if those who mourn are comforted and therefore called blessed, how will they be comforted? It wasn’t a big jump from there to James saying its not OK to say to your hungry, naked brother, be clothed, be filled…..you have to do something. It seems we have a role to play in God’s answer to our prayer for his mercy.
God has done everything necessary for mercy to triumph over judgment, but he didn’t leave it at that, as some self-satisfied complacent person like me would. He remains present with his created world, demonstrating and reminding us in infinite ways of his mercy and unfailing love. And when his church is revived we will join with him in this plan; our nation will be blessed not so much by the razzmatazz of supernatural intervention we love so dearly and therefore usually completely miss the point of… but by the tangible reality of Emmanuel, God with us expressing his unfailing love and mercy. As the church wakes up we will begin to demonstrate like we haven’t done for a while, the presence of God, his unfailing love, his steadfastness and long suffering. We will be as ready to bring the healing that comes quickly, as the healing that comes with long years, because both are expressions of the miracle of God present with us in his mercy.
Perhaps it is in fact in the long and painful journey of bereavement or depression, terminal and degenerative illness or a daughter with autism, that God’s unfailing steadfast love, his unfathomable understanding, his unending faithfulness are most needed and most clearly felt. Perhaps it is the church’s vocation to be the mercy of God, walking with the people through the valley of shadows as much as the mountain peaks…for as long as it takes.
In a discussion recently someone pointed out that altruism is not a distinctive of Christianity or the church, it is found in many cultures and religions. Sometimes we have used this argument as a reason for not getting our hands dirty and letting our hearts be touched; its been an excuse for us to focus on more ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ preoccupations. But could it be the season that altruism is not a distinctive of the Christian church is that God is so committed to demonstrating his mercy and grace that he will do it through anyone who’s awake enough to respond?
So, I guess I am left with the question for myself, how willing am I to be God’s mercy to those around me? Am I willing to walk the hard yards, patiently with God as he makes all things new, as we wait for the fullness of his Kingdom to come, when everything will at last be set to rights? When there’ll be no more tears or pain or death? Until that day, am I willing to be his hands and feet expressing his steadfast love, his great faithfulness and his unending mercy? And, will you join me?