“It’s funny what the drinking games can bring up. From hilarious stories of workplace frustration to anecdotes teeming with regret and shame. It’s a testament to the power of love when a group of friends can sit together in both the heavy and light, the scandalous and the embarrassment. In this way, the drinking adults at a creaking dinning room table are not unlike the creaking pews of a Sunday worship. A collection of sweaty bodies huddled together sharing in both the good and the bad.
As we make our way around the table, little, sharp pins of shame poke their way through our skin as we reflect on the things we’ve been told to be ashamed of. The pieces of our stories that our pastors and the inner voices we hold in our heads have told us propel us into dark places, perhaps beyond the reach of God’s holy grace.”
I’m reminded of this draft I had saved, in a never-finished post on mercy I had in the trenches of this blog, as I listen to my friend admitting their abandoned faith in God on a Zoom call at 4 in the morning. In a similar fashion, they have become so accustomed to the shame and the doubt, continued participation in a system that obviously isn’t enough to save you, is incredulous. What’s the point?
I’m reminded of this yet again as I scroll through the onslaught of COVID memes and brokenhearted updates of lost family members and jobs. Someone has shared one of those copy/paste/share statuses on their timeline. The gist is that this virus has been sent to remind us of our mortality. We spend every day on the line between heaven and hell, participating in and surrounded by a culture that is inherently evil. The usual suspects are present: abortion, New Ageism, witchcraft, gay marriage. The posts ends positively, with a declaration of faith that grants you an exception to hell, if you remember often enough to repent. If you stay vigilant to the fine line you walk between getting into heaven or being banished to hell.
I found myself, consumed with these worries from seemingly every direction, whispering the childhood prayer just in case:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my Soul to keep.
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my Soul to take.
We spend so much time doubting the permanence of sacrifice, I’m thankful to be celebrating the reminder today. Ellie Holcomb’s song “As Sure as the Sun” reentered my life shortly after the lockdowns began. I’ll tell this story more in depth on Sunday, in my Easter address, but this is how the song begins:
There is good news,Ellie Holcomb, “As Sure as the Sun”
There is good truth,
That you could never change,
No matter what you do.You are loved,
More than you know,
More than you could hope for,
After everything you’ve done.As sure as the sun will rise,
And chase away the night,
His mercy will not end. His mercy will not end.
I love this message (and her album of the same name). As I reflect on this state of our church and our world, particularly on this holy Good Friday, I’m saddened that so many of God’s children are convinced of the thin line, both for themselves and their neighbors. We have so many worship leaders, pastors, every-weekend-in-churchers that are convinced they are one step away from hell. That Jesus’ sacrifice requires daily attention to, constant reminding of, or it will shrivel up and cease. In a time of constant vigilance, fear, and uncertainty, I remain worried for the future of a church that doesn’t seem to trust its most core doctrine.
In Luke 23:33-34, Jesus is being carted away with criminals, bound for slaughter, steps away from the tree he will be nailed to, positioned in such a way his lungs will not be able to suck in air so, despite the blood pouring from his side, his hands, his feet, and his head, his cause of death will be suffocation. He calls out to his constant mockers “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
It’s a simple message with profound consequence.
Forgiveness does not require our vigilance or our allegiance. It is not a jealous lover or in limited supply. It is given to us when we are hammering the nails into the bone of our lover. It is given when our voices croak from the loud and fervent cussing of insults. It is given without our permission or our necessity. It is given in absence of our asking. Whatever you believe the reason for Jesus’ death was, whatever you believe needed death to rectify know this:
Mercy does not end because you forgot to pray the right prayer, because you made mistakes as a mother, because you had sex before you got married.
God’s mercy will not end.