Maundy Thursday, April 9th

By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Reflection—v. 15 ‘For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’

At Mercy, every Maundy Thursday we hold a foot washing service. Surprisingly, though I had been a part of the community for some years, I had never attended one of these services until my first year as a pastor to the church. The reaction I had to the experience of washing the feet of my community members was a bit overwhelming. Pastor Chad and I took turns washing each person’s feet, all the while gently speaking to them affirmations of their sacred belovedness and value to the community. Tears of gratitude pooled in my eyes and streaked down my cheeks as the water ran through my fingers and I thought about how blessed I was to know each person–how thankful I was that this community had trusted me with the responsibility of being their pastor. After everyone who desired to participate had their feet washed and dried someone from the community volunteered to wash mine. I remember how calming it felt as they toweled my feet, whispering back affirmations for me too. In that simple yet intimate moment I believed the truth of my belovedness. God came to be with us as a human being, an embodied example of the truest love. If ever we forget the truth of God’s great love for each and every one of us, all we must do is look to this example and do as the Christ we follow does—we humbly and graciously care for, serve, and love one another, and let ourselves be cared for, served, and loved in return.

Prayer Servant Lord, whenever we doubt our belovedness or the value of others, may we look to your example.

Wednesday, April 8th

By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Reflection—v. 7 ‘I know that I shall not be put to shame’

Shame is something we talk about a lot in our community. While it often seems that healthy foods, affordable housing, and adequate healthcare are scarce, shame comes in abundance out here on the streets. Homelessness, joblessness, mental health, severed relationships, poverty, addiction—they can all carry shame, and the false narratives our society spews only serve to bolster the case that we are failing or that we’ve done something wrong, when really there are larger more systematic problems at play here. Shame can keep us from seeking wellness for ourselves or from forming healthy community. Shame can even keep some of us from learning and growing when we become immobile with fear, not wanting to say or do the ‘wrong’ thing. My firm belief is that God desires to set us free from such shame. When we study scripture together as a community at Mercy, we remind ourselves of this liberating truth. We remind ourselves that though the world may spit at us, strike us, and insult us, God will not put us to shame. God created us, loves us, and desires for us life and well-being, and not the shame that inhibits our thriving. In our community we have a variety of ways of proclaiming how our relationship with God is ‘mess-up safe,’ so there’s no shame. In the moments that I find myself carting around my shame like an unwanted carry-on, I’m thankful for a community that reminds me that my relationship with God, and with them, is safe.

Prayer Loving God, set us free from the shame that inhibits our thriving in community.

Tuesday, April 7th

By: Ivan Cooley
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Reflection—v. 7 ‘I know that I shall not be put to shame’

I want to be proactive about seeing my family. I chose to give up being around my family because I felt like I was bringing shame to them, and I felt like I wasn’t going to change anytime soon. I would like to say that my decision was some kind of noble decision, but it wasn’t. It was a decision that was made out of shame and guilt. Believe me, I’ve felt the ramifications of that. Even though in a sense you could say I gave up on them, they never gave up on me. Even in my worst times my father would write me letters and tell me ‘Son, you’re smart. You’re going to make it. We love you. The door’s always open.’ You see, that’s the way God is too. And if God hadn’t left his door open for me, then I wouldn’t be in the process of trying to see my parents again. I haven’t given up my parents. As much as it doesn’t look like it, I do love them. I don’t just want to satisfy my own needs and alleviate my own shame and guilt–it’s something that I want for them too. I want to see my father and mother smile. I want to reunite with my family, because, you see, that’s what we all are in this whole world–one big family. It’s my wish and my prayer that everybody can reunite with their loved ones. God did the ultimate–God looked at humankind as his family. Even when we stray away, and maybe not pray or even think about God for a little while, let us not forget that we are a member of God’s family.

Prayer: God our parent, when we feel alone, help us to remember we are yours.

Monday, April 6th

By: Ivan Cooley
Matthew 21:1-11
Reflection—v. 9 ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’

When the people saw the king coming, they spread cloaks on the ground and broke off palm branches and laid them on the ground. They also waved the palm branches in the air to symbolize victory. The people were greeting the king in homage and shouted Hosanna. Hosanna is another way of saying savior, rescue me, or save me. On the king’s advent into town there was bedlam. The whole city was asking “who is this?” This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. That my friends, is the only humanitarian king I can think of. He lived a sinless life. He gave his sinless, blemish free life, so that we can be forgiven. He lived his life with love for humankind. A living, breathing human example of what we should strive for in our spiritual lives. I can tell people a king died so that I can live. In this way he conquered sin. He rose from the dead conquering sine and death. He demanded nothing and compassionately asked us to remember, follow, and believe in him. I certainly do, unquestionably. I wasn’t alarmed because the youth pastors and the youth group knew the same thing I knew. He is the only king worthy to be worshiped in prayer, and it sure is not a human one unless his name is Jesus Christ for he is truly the King of Kings—he has the victory over the enemies of our soul. He wants to see us all flourish like a palm tree in victory.

Prayer Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!

Palm Sunday, April 5th

By: Ivan Cooley
Matthew 21:1-11
Reflection—v. 5 ‘Look, your king is coming to you, humble’

A youth group attended Mercy one day. I was asked to pray at the conclusion of the phenomenal time we had spent together. I ended the prayer with the words “All praise and glory and honor to our King” then I hesitated. In two seconds of hesitation, closed eyes opened, bowed heads raised, trusting eyes became dubious gazes. When I clarified myself by naming Jesus Christ, happiness and good cheer were restored. I found no reason to be alarmed. In all my discussions concerning emperors and kings, about the only thing that can be said that’s satisfactory about them is that some may have been refined in the art of war. In other words, they are excellent at disturbing the peace and balance of humankind through violence and oppression. Real quick! Name one czar, emperor, or king who is remembered for being a humanitarian. I can name only one. He lived roughly two thousand years ago. He traveled all through the land preparing people for life not death. He preached, he taught, he blessed, he healed, he fed, and he clothed- -and these acts were considered miracles. The people of Israel were eagerly awaiting their king. The one who would free them from tyranny and oppression from the Roman Empire. He told two of his lieutenants to go into the village and find him a donkey. The donkey symbolizes serving, suffering, peace, and humility. The king lived his life serving and suffering with the peace and humility of a man who knew his destiny. Befitting a king, the lieutenants covered the donkey with their cloaks. When the King arrived in town, prophecy was fulfilled. “Look, your king is coming to you humble and mounted on a donkey.”

Saturday, April 4th

By: James King
Psalm 130
Reflection—v.1 ‘out of the depth I cry to you, O Lord’

In Psalm 130 it sounds like the people are asking for forgiveness for all the wrong-doings that they’ve done, and they’re waiting on the Lord to answer their prayer. The people have been living their life in sin, and now it’s catching up with them. Now they’re asking the Lord for forgiveness. They’re hoping and they’re looking for him, and they’re just waiting and waiting for the Lord to answer their prayer because they want to change the way they live. That is what the psalmist is saying: ‘Lord, forgive me for all my sins, and help me to change the way I’m living, and give me a new beginning. I put my hope in you, and I’ll keep my hope in you until you answer my prayers.’ Only the Lord can do that. Sometimes I feel like this too. I feel this way all the time. Sometimes it weighs heavy on me. Sometimes I think about it at night when I’m trying to sleep, and it’ll all be on my mind. ‘Why do I live like this? I don’t have to live like this. Why don’t I just change the way I live?’ It seems like I’m helpless. Sometimes it weighs heavy on me and it hurts. The writer of psalm 130 is like me, asking for forgiveness, asking God to take me from all of this madness and change the way I live.

Prayer Lord, forgive us for all our sins, and help us to change the ways we’re living, and give us new beginnings. We put our hope in you, and we’ll keep our hope in you until you answer our prayers.

Friday, April 3rd

By: Isaiah Lewis
Psalm 130
Reflection—v. 5 ‘I hope, LORD. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise.’

I have to admit, I have a contentious relationship with hope. There have been some points in my life when hope felt naïve at best and dangerous at worst. I assumed that anyone who was hopeful about the future simply wasn’t paying attention to the suffering of the human beings all around them. But I also worried that my feelings of hopelessness meant that I didn’t trust God, that I wasn’t faithful, and that maybe that meant God loved me less as a result. This psalm comforts me because its writer begins with not one, but two direct calls for God’s attention to their suffering. They invoke God by name—the LORD, the liberator and life-bringer and system disruptor—and say, ‘Hey, listen up. I need you!’ The psalmist knows all about trouble and knows God sees the mess that they’re in, including the ways in which they may have contributed to it. But they still trust God to listen to them, have mercy on them, and forgive them. And this is a pilgrimage song, which means that while they’re singing about needing God, they’re literally getting closer and closer to the holy place. I know that I need the loving attention of God to save me from the oppression I inflict on myself and other people. Most people do, I think. And my whole being hopes for God’s promise to us all.

Prayer Lord, come meet us in our hope

Thursday, April 2nd

By: Steve Smith
Romans 8:6-11
Reflection—v. 6 ‘to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace.’

The spirit is the way you feel like God is with you in your heart. The spirit guides you to be more heart-full–not harmful, but heart-full. Being spiritual is a very healthy way, I believe, to live. If God is working through you, you’re doing God’s work. For me personally, God working through me looks like God not letting me get into physical conflicts. I stay out of jail. I haven’t been to jail in seven years now, and that’s because I changed my point of view on a lot of things. I used to fight in Little Five Points every day. What changed is that I quit getting into fights. When I left the navy, I was a control freak—I always wanted to fight the meanest person around and I did. I went to jail several times. I had to change that. I worked to clear the garbage out—it was a trashy way of thinking. It was a dark spell, but with Christ you get that little light, and then the Holy Spirit grabs you, and you think ‘Whoa! That’s never happened before!’ But it happens a lot now. It’s almost like a 6th sense–where most people have five senses, God becomes your sixth sense. It’s not perfect perception, but the spirit is a kind of perception from God and it helps you to understand and get right in your life instead of walking and thinking in shadows. I think it’s good for our community to study this type of scripture because we can relate to what we might need to change. That way it’s not erroneous, and we’re more intelligent–it makes us a stronger community to be bonded in scripture.

Prayer God, guide us by your spirit to walk in your light!

Wednesday, April 1st

By: Maggie Leonard
Ezekial 37:1-14
Reflection—v. 10 ‘the breath entered them, they came to life and stood’

Breath prayer was an ancient spiritual practice of the church. One of the earliest of these prayers was known as the ‘Jesus Prayer,’ wherein early practitioners would repeat ‘Jesus, son of God, have Mercy on me’ in rhythm with their breath. At Mercy, Chad turned this phrase into a beautiful sung prayer. I typically think of breath prayers as shorter prayers, one or two words in length, thought in concert with each inhalation and exhalation. I find that praying in this way slows me down, helping me to focus and find calm. Interestingly enough, research has shown that changing our breath can also affect our nervous system. When we are stressed out, the sympathetic part of the nervous system is activated (think, the flight, fright, or freeze response) and we get stuck in this space with a faster heart rate and more elevated blood pressure. It is difficult for the brain to switch back to calm after experiencing stress. However, it has been shown that by taking long slow exhales, we can convince the brain that things are calm and peaceful, even in the midst of stressful circumstances. Long slow exhales can literally bring us calm and clarity. This is the place from which we can make good decisions. This is the place where it can become clear what we should stand for. God’s Holy Spirit fills us with breath and brings us clarity. Through prayer, may we discern this Lenten season where and with whom God’s infusion of love calls us to stand.

Prayer (take a deep breath and slowly exhale) Loving God, give us calm and clarity.

Saturday, March 28

By: David Swank
Psalm 23
Reflection—v .4 ‘I fear no evil, for you are with me’

I was in good health for a 61 year old man, or so I thought until 3 months ago when I suddenly became ill. I was forced to see a doctor at Grady where I was checked in as a patient. The doctors there had to run a bunch of tests for them to determine how sick I was. After the tests were done and the results were in, I had Pastor Chad with me, and the doctor informed us that I have colon cancer. It was Stage 4–which it doesn’t go any higher than that. I have three pastors who have been a real rock and salvation for me. I’m high on personal confidence–I truly feel that with God’s love and guidance, along with three loving pastors standing behind me, I truly do feel that I can overcome any life- threatening disease that Satan will throw at me. I also think my current armor of God is me, Pastor Holly, Pastor Brittany, and my helmet is my Senior Pastor Chad–he has helped me more than I could ever repay. Whatever happens in the end, I feel ready to meet my God, if that is God’s plan for me.

Prayer God, our rock and our salvation, protect us from all harm and surround us with your love and guidance when we need it the most.