When Words Fail

If you’ve been hanging around here for any length of time, you know that the liturgy is one of my big hobbyhorses.  But why?  Simply put, it is a time-tested means of keeping the main thing the main thing, of keeping the Christian story and message front and center at all times.  It is a drama and story that connects us to God and to each other.  It forms us as a people who are waiting faithfully for our Redeemer who has come and is coming again.

There are moments in our lives, in the lives of our church communities, and in the life of our nation, when words fail.  We just don’t know what to say because there are so many feelings coming all at once.  In these moments there is always the liturgy, the words of God’s people spoken week after week down through the centuries of church history, which speak on our behalf and which we can borrow for ourselves when our own words are just not enough.

There is a part of the liturgy which goes “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie elieson” (that’s “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy”).  This is the only part which is still in Greek, for some reason it never made the jump from Greek to Latin.

But what do we mean when we say “Lord have mercy”?  Do we mean that we are asking God to not punish us for our sin, to not rain down upon us the fiery retribution which our sins deserve?  There is a place for that, I suppose.  Or do we mean that we need God’s mercy because our own is not enough?  That we need God’s wisdom and loving-kindness to be with us because we simply do not have enough of these things on our own?

This has been a crazy week in the life of our nation.  Two racially charged police killings in Baton Rouge, LA and St. Paul, MN, followed by the murder of five police officers in Dallas, TX.  Add to that several other instances of blacks being killed by white police officers, plus the Trayvon Martin thing back in 2012, and it seems as if our country has regressed woefully in terms of race relations.

Ever since the days of George Whitefield, our churches and our movement have proclaimed a gospel which has become increasingly narrowly focused on the individual and his/her right standing before God, all the while lamenting the decline of our culture and society at large.  There is a connection here, yet we do not see it.  (Perhaps we do not want to see it?)

Yet Paul’s theology of grace is not just about individuals getting into right standing before God.  It is about communities being transformed.  It is about individuals being reconciled not just to God but to each other, about the destruction of social and cultural barriers which people have erected between themselves and others to keep them in a state of separation and enmity.

This is not an add-on to the Gospel, or an implication of the Gospel.  Instead it is part and parcel of the Gospel.

Yet we have missed it.  Our land is thoroughly saturated with the Gospel.  Churches which proclaim it are on nearly every street corner.  Yet when you look at our nation’s history of racial animosity and especially at how things have ratcheted up in recent years, there is no possible way to believe that the Gospel which has saturated our land is the genuine article.

We have missed it.  And our brothers and sisters and neighbors are suffering as a result.

We need the mercy, wisdom, and loving-kindness of God to be with us, because clearly our own mercy, wisdom, and loving-kindness are not enough.

Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy.