The touch of God’s mercy

File:Woman praying at the Western Wall.jpg

Sunday Evening

Psalm 71:1-6

2In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
3Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.

There was a woman at the altar rail deep in prayer as I came with the bread of Holy Communion. We are set up so that the altar rail surrounds three sides of the altar and the servers can walk in a continuous circle around the altar, serving each person – with the spaces emptying and filling again by the time we come around again.

We have kneeling pads so people can kneel if they wish. And occasionally someone is in prayer when I come with the bread. But the prayers are usually brief – or they become aware of my presence and open their hands. Today this woman didn’t look up.

Open hands are a symbol that a person wishes to receive. Hands closed together are a sign that a person wishes only to receive the blessing. But were these closed hands or folded hands? Was she awaiting a blessing or deep in prayer and not yet ready for the bread?

I have asked people before whether they wished to receive – especially on those times when their hands were not really open but not completely closed. These are often visitors not aware of the routine we follow in this place. And I have waited for people to finish praying. But this person was deep in prayer.

Part of my brain was trying to decide what to do. But my heart was with this woman’s cry to God. And before my brain made up its mind what to do, my hand reached out to give her a blessing. Whether she wanted to receive communion or not, she seemed to need the touch of a human hand making the sign of the cross on her forehead, reminding her that she belonged to a gracious God.

The bread does that too, and more. Much more. But there is something about the touch of another and the sign of the cross that has great power.

We need more than words in worship. We need to hear music. We need to taste the bread and smell the wine. We need the handshake that goes with the word of peace. We need to stand and sit and kneel. We need even to dance – though Lutherans don’t do that much, you can occasionally catch them swaying. It is more than our minds that need to feel the touch of God’s mercy.


Woman praying at the Western Wall.  Photo: By Shoshanah (Flickr: 2008-06-25 00212) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

To dust you shall return – but dust you shall not remain

Watching for Ash Wednesday, March 5

Lent 2014


photo-10Palm fronds burn.  The joy of last Palm Sunday is consumed by fire.  Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.

It is somber, but it is not dark.  Ash Wednesday is built on a foundation of joy – or, at least peace.  We face mortality as those who know Easter, as those who have seen the empty tomb, who have heard the joyful cry, who have faced the great mystery that God will not leave his creation in dust and ashes.  We come to remember that we are ashes; we are not gods.  But we come to be marked with the cross, the sign of the risen one who has erased our sin.  We are mortal creatures, but created anew in Christ.

Somber, because of the fearful price of our rebellion.  Somber because of the fearful brokenness of God’s good creation.  But gathered in the promise of heaven’s grace.  Gathered in the dawning light of the reunion of heaven and earth.  Gathered for the journey to Easter.

Remember that you are dust – but also claimed by the risen one.

The Prayer for March 5, 2014

Almighty God, Holy and Immortal,
who knows the secrets of every heart
and brings all things to the light of your grace.
Root us ever in your promised mercy
that, freed from every sin and shame,
we may walk the paths of your truth and love

The Texts for March 5, 2014

First Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.” – Facing a terrible plague of locusts, the prophet calls for the people to turn to God, marking themselves with dust and ashes and rent hearts that God may see their desperate plight and come to their aid.

Psalmody: Psalm 103:8-14
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.”Psalm 51 is used in at the beginning of our liturgy, the famous cry of repentance by David after he has been confronted by the prophet Nathan over the murder of Uriah and the taking of Bathsheba.  When we come to the time for the psalm we hear the poet speak of the tender love and faithfulness of God who has “removed our sins from us” “as far as the east is from the west.”

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:1
“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
–  Paul calls his troubled congregation to be reconciled to God, not to accept the grace of God in vain, saying that now is the right time for them to return to God.

Gospel Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” – Jesus has declared that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.  Now, having spoken about the meaning of the commandments (in contrast to the way they are taught by the scribes) Jesus now turns to the acts of piety for which the Pharisees are known.  Our prayer, fasting and charity must be done not for public acclaim but to please God.