I am a church woman, and I was a church girl — religious to the core. I have been in churches, and served on the staff of churches, large and small — Greek Orthodox churches, Episcopal, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Baptist. Mostly Baptist. A 50-year Baptist and an ordained Baptist minister for 26 of those years.
I enjoy so many fond memories of my time in all of those faith traditions. Some poignant times, some hard times, some joy-filled times, some hilarious times — all made my journey a very rich one. So I will share with you just one funny story. I once was a part of a women’s choral ensemble in one of our Baptist churches. We sang lovely hymn arrangements, some contemporary pieces, and a few high-brow anthems. But at rehearsal one night, our director pulled out a piece of music that was rather mind-blowing. We looked at the lyrics and began to giggle. Soon we were laughing uncontrollably as we saw the opening line of the song’s refrain: “Justice could have called but mercy came instead.”*
Turns out, this was a bonafide gospel song, a quartet song, and we thought ourselves much too musically sophisticated to sing a gospel quartet song. But this is the interesting thing about those song lyrics that seemed to us so funny. In applying my theological and doctrinal knowledge to those lyrics, I determined that the sentence is true. It is very true that God can confront our sins and flaws with justice, but instead covers them with mercy. How full of grace is that truth! How many times have we needed God’s touch of mercy and grace! How many times has my sinfulness convinced me that mercy is out of my reach, that grace is impossible for me!
Pope Francis clearly understands sin in this way. Shortly after he proclaimed the Holy Year of Mercy in 2015, he was asked why humanity is so in need of mercy. He replied, “considering our illness, our sins, to be incurable, things that cannot be healed or forgiven. We lack the actual concrete experience of mercy. The fragility of our era is this, too: we don’t believe that there is a chance for redemption; for a hand to raise you up; for an embrace to save you, forgive you, pick you up, flood you with infinite, patient, indulgent love; to put you back on your feet. We need mercy.”
When all is said and done, the words of that gospel song are true. Indeed, “justice could have called, but mercy came instead.” It is my hope and prayer that all of us will find redemptive mercy in the God of grace who offers us love, patience and forgiveness.
* Written by R.R. Christian as listed in the Catalog of Published Music