Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
Our Music Director, David Mathers, and I finally had a chance to sit down and talk about the shape of our liturgical expression this year during the season of Lent. Often, I think, we seek to express a somberness, maybe it is a sobriety from all our everyday distractions and entertainments that brings us to our senses and makes us realize that we have to change. You notice, probably, that music often changes key to minor chords, a “darker” sound, a greater austerity in the way we celebrate Mass. The General Instruction even goes so far as to say that use of instrumental music as an embellishment is to be avoided, that our singing is more bare, and simpler.
However, sometimes the word “grim” comes to mind. While there might be a sincere and appropriate sadness in our hearts when we finally begin to realize how far we have allowed our hearts to wander away from God and how much we need to come home, I think that “grim” isn’t necessarily the right response. Because that moment that we realize we are far away from God—even if that distance may seem insurmountable—we also realize that it is a moment of grace from God that allows us to see it, and therefore God is at work. God is calling. In that moment there can never be the grimness of living without hope: the moment of grace when we realize we must return to God fills us with the realization that God’s mercy calls us home, not his judgment.
It is almost as simple as the two options the minister of ashes may use while administering ashes on Ash Wednesday. “Remember, man, you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (somewhat grim, if that is all there is), or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” There is more than the inevitability of human death. In our class on the existence of God last week we talked a lot about what it meant to say that Jesus died on the Cross—both as God and man. When Jesus died, he really died. He really entered into the mystery of what it means to be forsaken by God, who is love. To say that God and man died isn’t to say that God or man ceased to be: when we die, we don’t cease to exist, we are very much still alive, simply in a different state of existence, no longer limited by the time and space of this world. What that looks like, exactly, we don’t really know. But what we do know is that God’s lifeline for us is his mercy, and that his mercy is the source of our hope, even in what may be the darkest days of our lives.
“Grim” doesn’t work, because the hope given to us by the mercy of God is the beginning of joy, regardless of how sad the separation has been. If we believe in God—regardless of what that might look like for different people—our nature demands that we seek God, our faith compels us, our practice of religion shows us the way, and our expression in worship is anything but grim as our hearts long for the living God.
One of the thing that we talked about in our class is the difference between saying what any religion might say, “God loves me…” or “God loves the world,” compared to the bold statement of Christianity (revealed by Christ himself), that “God is love.” Talk about a game-changer, especially if it is something you may have never really thought about before. It suddenly doesn’t work for us to convince ourselves that I might be so sinful that God can’t possibly love me anymore, or for now, or until I make some kind of dramatic overture to him. If he is love, then he can’t not love. His love is constant, despite our relative degree of faithfulness. It isn’t about me at all.
I think this gets more to the meaning of Mercy. Mercy is another word for love, particularly when we are speaking in human terms of being unloveable: God’s love endures despite us. It
is always there, always waiting for us to come home. Let us make good use of God’s love and mercy during this Lent and come home.
God bless you.