By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 31, the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath
I recently read a powerful book called The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. In this book, a runaway slave escapes a plantation in Georgia and makes her way to the Free States. Each state that she passes through on her journey has different laws that dictate how to control the black populations within them. North Carolinians, fearing a slave uprising, abolished slavery, and the state bought up all the slaves, sold them to neighboring states, and forbade black folks to set foot on their soil. To do so and be caught (and they looked for folks every night) meant to be hung in the city square and by morning moved to the road leading to town, ‘Freedom Trail.’ Turning people into issues is a dangerous business. I cannot help but consider who we sacrifice as an issue… What do we see as a threat to our power or comfort? What bodies do we then remove from the public eye? I believe that we are a good people, with good intentions. My hope is that we trust our goodness enough to have the courage to see when our intentions miss the mark. My hope is that with God’s help, we will see one another’s humanity and honor one another’s value.
Prayer Crucified One, help us to see that which we try hard to hide.
By: Maggie Leonard
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Reflection—v. 5, wash the disciples’ feet and wipe them
This past spring, I had the great privilege to walk across Northern Spain along the ancient pilgrimage trail known as the Camino de Santiago. Each day I rose before the sun and walked an average of fifteen miles a day. There wasn’t a body on the path that didn’t take a beating, our feet receiving the worst of it. We stayed in hostels each night—the root of the word originating in the word hospital, the trail’s original shelters where weary travelers were welcome to stay to rest and heal. About midway through, I stopped at a hostel wherein the host (the Spanish word shows the association between hospital, hospitality, the the person who offers hospitality) took to heart the historical significance of her position and establishment. She welcomed pilgrims into her office where she inspected their feet, cared for their blisters and ailments, and dispensed materials and advice for continuing to care for them going forward—all free of charge. It was a humbling moment to have her face inches from my foot, popping blisters, and cleaning the wounds. Her care was invaluable. This week, a group of nine women gathered at Mercy and graciously cared for the feet of our weary walkers—many members walk 15 miles daily in the city to meet their needs. The Harriet Tubman Foot Clinic is that beacon of hospitality, liberation, and compassion in our city. We are honored to be partnered with them and washing feet weekly at Mercy.
Prayer Guide our feet, holy God, that we may be moved to show your care to all.
By: Chad Hyatt
It is fitting on this Spy Wednesday, the day we recall Judas making a deal with the powers-that-be in order to hand Jesus over to them, that his betrayal becomes clear at a table. Betrayal is impossible without friendship, without the sense of shared kinship that the image of the table symbolizes so richly. At the table, we share in common. At the table, we serve one another—as the Gospel of John emphasizes when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. At the table, we laugh. And at the table, we weep together, sharing our troubles with those we love. It is at the table, then, that betrayal can be seen for the deep brokenness within human love that it is. We feel its pain, for we know what is to be betrayed by those that we have loved, those we have trusted. And yet Jesus does not condemn, even though he is no more above the pain of betrayal than we. He still offers the bread of his table to his betrayer. The truth about us is that we have all been betrayed—and all of us have betrayed others. In particular, our institutions have betrayed the poor. At Jesus’ table, we find healing from the wounds of betrayal, through the wounds of the one who was betrayed. Only in the self-giving love of Jesus, who continues to give himself in the face of betrayal, who welcomes all, can we all find healing, forgiveness, and life.
Prayer Jesus, at your table that welcomes all, have mercy on me, a sinner.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection— v. 41, they removed the stone
Here’s the storyline as I’m reading it today—Lazarus was ill, things kept getting worse until he hit rock bottom. His friends and family saw his struggle and their hearts broke. With the help of God, new life was offered! But there was a rock in the way. Do his friends write him off as lost forever or do they move the rock? Sometimes there are real barriers in our way to healthy living, barriers that were placed there by someone else. It can take a whole community to remove those barriers. As Christian community, we trust in the power of God, value the empowerment of the individual, and know that we are called to look past our own self-interest and gather together as a community to help others. In particular, we gather to help the most vulnerable in our community—those without resources or power within our society. Can we take seriously those who tell us that our systems are hurting them? Do we believe those who tell us that they are oppressed? Can we see the advantages that some have over others? Who do we dismiss? Who do we help? Who do we stand with? Can we keep our hearts open and help those who are asking for it, or for us to stand with them as they help themselves?
Prayer God, help us to see the stones in our community. Help us have the wisdom, strength, power, and numbers to remove them.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 39, Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.
If there was ever any doubt that Lazarus was truly dead, perhaps he was asleep, his smell would satisfy the strongest of skeptics. Smell is an unmistakable sign of death. How much more incredible is resurrection when we know that it came from death? Have you ever witnessed a someone who was in a really bad place, experiencing their own death, a separation from love? Someone who was really struggling with their circumstances—grieving the loss of a loved one, divorce or a break-up, depression, job loss, or transitions. Can you name what it was that helped you to see that person’s struggle? What are the tell-tale signs of your own suffering, your own death? Perhaps you, or they, become more controlling, fearful, judgmental, needy, negative, or self-centered. Perhaps you compromise your value system or drink more. Perhaps you isolate yourself. Perhaps you can’t be alone. Perhaps everyone around you seems more negative (read: projection). Perhaps your mind is racing, you can’t sleep, or you have trouble seeing your own value. Those feelings do not last forever, but we do have to be gentle with ourselves and those who suffer when we see it. In moments of despair, God cries with us and moves us back toward abundant life. Resurrection is possible!
Prayer Jesus, you cry when we are separated from your love. Draw us back to life.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 35, Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?’
Pretend that the last person that you talked to (take a moment, who was it?) just told you that he or she is pregnant. What would your reaction be? Surprise? Over-the-top squealing with joy? Profanity? Anger? Sadness? With a host of questions? Laughter? Blame? A fix? Though there are so many options, frequently we find ourselves reactive, defaulting to one response, blind to the other possibilities. Our responses are colored by the things we have going on, what we expect from someone, and even the tone of the questioner (they might expect a particular response from you). Our answer might change given the hour or the day. In this passage we see two different responses to people reacting to the same experience. One group responds with empathy—noticing the feelings involved and honoring them as such. The second group responds with a fix—which comes out as criticism and blame. Notice the distance between this second group that jumps to trouble-shooting and Jesus. Connection to one another in the midst of a bad situation requires vulnerability, the sharing of feelings, and the ability to sit with discomfort. It takes more time but does draw us together.
Prayer Compassionate God, help us to approach one another with tenderness.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 5, spat… spread mud on his eyes… saying to him, ‘go wash’
Speaking of fixing things… helping people is so good! We are created to help one another. But so often we over do it. We forget what helping looks like—it is messy, grimy, raw, complicated, and personal. We also can’t do everything for others. The person who needs help has to participate as well. In her book, The New Codependency (I highly recommend it), Melody Beattie says, ‘codependency is normal behavior, plus. There are times we do too much, care too much, feel too little, or overly engage. We forget where the other person’s responsibilities begin and our responsibilities stop.’ Too often, I have volunteered unsolicited advice or tried to coordinate for someone all that I thought they needed, only for the advice to be ignored (leaving me bitter, because I know about these things… how patronizing!) or the coordination falling incomplete (it wasn’t really wanted and their effort wasn’t wasted). Here, Jesus models for us healthy helping and reminds us that those who we are trying to help have to participate in the healing, in the fixing. Not to allow one another to have that agency robs one of her potential, of her power.
Prayer Helping God, help me not to get caught up in how good it feels to help others. May I be open to their empowerment.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 2, Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?
We are so quick to place blame. It’s a mechanism for discharge of discomfort and pain, giving us a sense of control in bad situations. Blame is at the center of this whole story—blame for how the man came to be blind, blame for how he was healed, and blame for who was working on the Sabbath. According to Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor, ‘blame is coercive to relationships and is a reason we miss our opportunity for empathy. When trying to place blame while hearing a story, we’re not listening and feeling but making connections about whose fault it is.’ I’ve found this to be true in my own life—I can easily go into blaming and fixing mode and lose sight of the humanity of my friend and empathize with their experience. In this passage, everyone is so busy trying to figure who did what wrong that they end up pitting one against another and creating confusion and anxiety. In this passage, how sad that they miss the chance to witness real transformation and celebrate a turning point in a man’s life.
Prayer God of transformation, help us not to default to blame and fixing, but to see you. May we seek connection with one another and with you above all else.
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: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection—v. 8, you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from.
After participating in the Women’s March in Atlanta, what Jesus says about the power and work of the spirit struck me in a new way. Jesus says that those born of the spirit are like the wind. You cannot see it, and you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going, but you can hear it. I would add that you can feel it. Before the march, I had been feeling pretty hopeless about a lot of situations. From my perspective, it seemed that the hearts of those living within our country no longer cared about the marginalized, the immigrants, those living on the streets, women, Muslims… I began to feel small, inconsequential, and insufficient for change. Even as I knew it was not true, I began to feel alone in my convictions. Upon arriving at the march that day I realized I was surrounded by hopeful, eager, and inspired people. Where did they all come from? How were there so many of us who cared about these issues? I did not know how it all came together or why as individuals so many people joined together that day in one hopeful voice, but I could hear it, and I could feel it, and I knew that the Spirit was at work.
Prayer God of new birth and new hope, help us to live as those born of the spirit.