By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 8, you were once darkness
I always struggle with imagery of light and dark during Lent. Historically, the metaphor has been conflated so that darkness—including skin color—represents evil. Darkness is not equal to evil, but is used to describe a state in which it is difficult to see. To be darkness is not about being evil, but instead about embodying what one is not able or willing to see about themselves, others, and our social constructs. To be light is about the purposeful movement toward truth and love. It’s about being honest with ourselves about the intentions and impact of our actions. It’s about our willingness to receive information. It’s about our willingness to witness. There are times in our lives when we are not willing to see our own hearts. There are other times when we are not willing to see circumstances around us. Lent is a season of revelation, where we look into our own hearts and see what lies there. It is a celebration of information—with the knowledge that we might not like what we find. We must not dismiss the authenticity of information with which we disagree or disheartens us. The hard work of Lent is to prepare our hearts to receive that which we never thought possible.
Prayer I stand in the dark, God, not seeing clearly. Show me a different way.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 8, while we still were sinners, Christ died for us
In Lent, we draw closer to the one who loves us without measure. Nearly four weeks on, we marvel at the scandalous simplicity of the gospel: while ‘we still were sinners, Christ died for us.’ In this, Paul says, God ‘proves his love for us.’ He reminds us that we are not likely to give our lives, even for the ‘righteous’ or the ‘good.’ And yet Paul describes us as sinners, ‘ungodly,’ and ‘enemies’ of God. Make no mistake, there is a radical, transformative nonviolence at the heart of the gospel. In an age of terror and war, where anxiety about our own security threatens to trump compassion and generosity of spirit, we do well to call to mind the nonviolence of God toward us. Paul says the gospel is itself the ‘power of God to save’ everyone who trusts its gracious promise—revealing God’s own unbelievable justice (1:16-17). It is a justice where even though—or perhaps, precisely because—‘all have sinned,’ ‘they are now justified by his grace as a gift’ (3:23-24). In a word, God saves us by a kind of unilateral disarmament—from God’s side. It would seem almost blasphemous were it not the source of all our praise, as in the ancient words of the Easter vigil liturgy: ‘O happy fault that earned… so glorious a Redeemer!’ As we move toward the cross, holding dear the one who ‘died for us’ and toward the joyful triumph of life over death, let us remember the nonviolent grace of our God, who comes to us not with fists raised but with arms outstretched.
Prayer Christ who died for us, give me a nonviolent heart toward my enemies.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 8, if you knew… who it is who is speaking with you
One of the murals at the heart of our worship and serving space at Mercy is an image of the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well. This thoughtful, intelligent woman is like so many of us so much of the time: Jesus is speaking with her, but she doesn’t really know who he is—nor does she fully appreciate that the gift of God is present in the other person she is encountering. In a sense, just as in Psalm 95, her heart has been hardened. In the things that cause her to resist the very truth that is also clearly drawing her, we might see how our own hearts and communities resist grace. She says, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ In one sentence, we see that issues of race, gender, and religion are tightly woven into this encounter. These issues, then and now, form very real barriers to seeing the gift of God in our sisters and brothers. But the woman and Jesus transcend these barriers one by one with open, honest dialogue. Their cumulative weight is bearing down upon her and Jesus—and upon us. They are felt in the power of communal shame that has made the woman an outcast, even with her own group. Her encounter with Jesus becomes a safe space where her truth can be told and heard, where the barriers that block our hearts come crumbling down, replaced by openness and mutual respect.
Prayer Jesus, meet us at the well and help us to recognize your grace in one another.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 7b, Oh, that today you would listen to his voice
While the concluding lines of this psalm may seem harsh, they are only a warning. And because they are a warning, they are literally beside the point. Put another way, the extended description of the hardened heart serves the ultimate purpose of underscoring the psalmist’s main point: we are able to, and we should, listen to God’s voice speaking to us. Don’t conjure up some image of Charlton Heston jerking his head heaven-ward as the booming baritone of God calls to him from somewhere offscreen. Sorry to disappoint, but that isn’t actually how God speaks to us! The truth is, God is speaking to us all the time, even—and some would say, especially—in silence. God speaks in creation, through circumstance, by our conscience, and with the wisdom of others. The difficulty, more often than not, is that we fail to listen. Lent is about practicing the turning of our hearts and lives toward the God of love and life. The disciplines we re-discovered Ash Wednesday—alms-giving, prayer, and fasting—all function as means by which we can re-discover our hearts. They are practices of renewed listening. In this moment, accept that God is really speaking, and your heart is big enough to listen.
Prayer O God, today you are speaking, and I am listening.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 8, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah…
The writer of Psalm 95 offers us a reflection on the events of Exodus 17 as the psalm concludes. Perhaps, when taken as a whole, the psalm is a meditation on what it is to be the people chosen by a saving and redeeming God, who is also its shepherding king. Seen this way, these last lines remind us that chosen or not, despite having been saved and redeemed in an extraordinary manner—and indeed, time and again—we can still harden our hearts to God’s present activity. Such hardening prevents us from entering fully into the restful peace—as ‘sheep of his pasture’—that God promises, that God wills for us. We might even say that this restful peace, this hope of wholesome wholeness, is the very goal of God’s saving. Yet we know that in fact we do harden our hearts. We do resist God’s saving activity in the present—even as we also long with our hearts for the wholeness only God brings. Lent is as good a time as any to examine our hearts, searching for the places where we have grown hard, for signs of our resistance to the attractions of grace.
Prayer God of life, I find my heart hard when I want it to be tender, closed when I want it to be open. Soften my heart so it may open without fear to your grace.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 3, the people thirsted… and complained
God hears our cries, especially the ‘cry of the poor.’ God heard the anguished cries of slaves in Egypt. Now free and traversing a wilderness, the people again cry out for lack of water. In their desperation, they go so far as to question their own liberation: did God set us free just to kill us? But it’s too easy for us to point fingers at our ancestors. Yes, God’s people are testing God instead of trusting, content with a mere transaction rather than the gift of transformation. But they are still in the process of accepting their identity as a people chosen and beloved by God. They’re not there yet, literally or metaphorically. They are on the way. And so are we, if we are honest. Our view of God is often just as transactional, and we are just as prone to bargain with God, becoming angry and fearful when we perceive that our security and well-being are threatened. The God who liberates us will never be a Pharaoh from whom we need deliverance. Yet in the same way that God heard their cry in Egypt, God hears their cry in the wilderness—even when it takes the form of an angry accusation. God is always a loving liberator: the same rod that broke the Sea in two now breaks open the rock to allow gushing water to flow for the thirsty.
Prayer God of liberation, we cry out against you, as if you were Pharaoh. Thank you, that in your mercy, you hear us still and quench our thirsty lives.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 2, Why do you test the Lord?
The struggle against sin is an important Lenten theme. All of us struggle against the tendency to resist the attractions of life. To talk seriously of sin is to wrestle with the reality of temptation. In Exodus, the people experience temptation as ‘tempting’ God. Said in a way that might make more sense for us, the people put God to the test. This temptation arises from the intersection of two realities: one, the awareness of a genuine need, and two, a question of God’s presence. The community is without access to water in the wilderness. This is an authentic need, and despite the pointed edge of the accusation against Moses and God, the crisis is real for a struggling community on the run. But the crux of the temptation is not the legitimacy of their need but a refusal to trust that God is present with them and will not abandon them. The people ask, ‘Is God with us or not?’ Rather than accept God’s trustworthiness and power to care as proved by God’s actions in their liberation and on their journey to this point, they reduce the relationship to a series of transactions, where God is judged based on each new circumstance. They are testing God, not trusting God.
Prayer Lord, help us to trust that you are always with us, closer still in suffering.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 1, …journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded
The now liberated people of God ‘journey by stages’ through the wilderness en route to the land of promise. The piecemeal nature of their journey—of any undertaking, really—provides a resonant metaphor for us as we make our way through Lent. As we say at Mercy, so often in fact that it has become one of our community in-words, God’s work with us is a ‘process,’ unfolding more slowly and with more challenges than we would like. It is our way of reminding ourselves to be patient at what Teihard de Chardin called the ‘slow work of God.’ We often lament it and wonder why it is so, but are we really so obsessed with ‘getting there’ and with fast-everything, that we cannot see that every moment is precious and that even the difficult times yield fruit we might not otherwise discover? Slowing down to take the world around us in is part of the discipline of Lent. And it’s not just for a season, either. Lent is a way of developing the practices that enliven the whole of our discipleship lives. The practice of mercy in relationship to the real needs of our sisters and brothers slows us down. Prayer and fasting slow us down. As we take the journey ‘in stages,’ trusting that this is indeed ‘as the Lord commanded,’ we discover God is leading us together toward promise and hope.
Prayer Saving God, help us to slow down, and trust your work in us and in the world.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection—v.3, He who keeps you will not slumber.
When reading this psalm, I cannot help but to think of the harsh conditions of the outdoors. Have you ever sat out in the sun too long without shade or enough sun-block, knowing your skin is burning and your body temperature is rising? Have you ever shivered as the wind whipped you and cold rain drops landed on your face, knowing that soon you will be shivering and chilled to the bone? Such feelings can capture the intensity of feeling unequipped, uncared for, and unsafe. Sometimes the only relief comes when you rush indoors with a deep sigh, trusting that you are now protected from the elements. However, many of us do not have the safety and comfort of such places of relief. Whether it is because they are fleeing unsafe conditions in far-off countries, or living on the streets within our very own neighborhoods, many of our brothers and sisters find it difficult to experience the relief of a safe night’s sleep indoors. But, as Christians, let us acknowledge that we have a God who wants that for us, and for all humans. Our God is one who would shield us from the harsh elements, and keep us while we slumber. Let us participate in this, God’s work, that all may feel such relief and protection.
Prayer God, you stay up while we sleep. You never slumber. May we do a better job of caring for one another, even as you so lovingly care for us all.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection—v. 2, …you will be a blessing
Sometimes we forget what all Abraham’s call entails. We get so caught up in what it means that Abraham is chosen, special, and called that we can forget what exactly Abraham is called to do. God tells Abraham that God is choosing him to ‘be a blessing’ so that ‘in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ If we are to think of our own call as Christians in this way, then we must accept the work that goes into being a blessing to others. We cannot ignore those seeking refuge in our country. We cannot ignore those living on the streets without access to showers, shelter, and healthcare. We cannot villainize and disassociate from those who may have voted differently from us. The work of being a blessing is a daunting task to anyone who may rather turn inward and put themselves first in the difficult times ahead, but that is not what our call entails. When God called Abraham to be a blessing, things did not suddenly get easy for him. It was a difficult journey, one in which he fell short, doubted, and messed up. Like Abraham, we are not called to be perfect, but in our beloved choseness we are called to the difficult work of being a blessing.
Prayer Everlasting God, guide us that we may be a blessing to all others, and instruct our hearts that we may do so in gracious and accepting love.