The ‘Wildness’ in God’s Mercy | President’s Reflection

On a recent Sunday morning, when we were reading together one of our favorite hymns, Paul read, “There’s a wildness in God’s mercy,” instead of “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.” We laughed, but I kept thinking about that misreading all day. There is a “wildness” in God’s mercy. It is not domesticated or tame. It certainly does not follow any set of rules that we would have invented. It is extravagant beyond anything that we could have imagined.

We are reminded of this “wildness” at Easter more than any other time of the church year. We see the Lord of the universe behaving like no other monarch we have ever seen—washing his disciples’ feet as a servant would do—and telling us that we should do the same. We see our Lord standing calmly before the Roman Governor telling Pontius Pilate, that, contrary to what seemed evident to everyone in that room, Pilate was not really in charge of the proceedings that day. We read of our Lord’s words that no one was taking his life from him; rather, he was laying it down. He was choosing to “drink the cup,” and, as hard as it was, he would, ultimately, have it precisely that way. In ways that our vocabulary is not rich enough to contain, we affirm in our faith that, on Calvary, our Triune God took into the Godhead all the pain and suffering of our fallen world that the world might be “redeemed.” All our words fail to come even close to capturing this mystery. And then, much to everyone’s surprise and shock, on the third day, the Lord, whose body had been laid so carefully and lovingly in a borrowed tomb following the crucifixion, broke free from the chains of death and returned to his disciples just as he had been trying to tell them he would.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are invited to live daily in the power of this Resurrection. It is not easy to know what that means. It most certainly does not mean that things will always turn out as we expect—or hope. It will no doubt mean that we, like the disciples, will often be surprised and sometimes even shocked at how God shows up in our world. It will not be on our terms, nor on our timetable.

This Easter 2020 has tested our limited capacity for imagining the “wildness” of God’s mercy. We have not been able to do the “normal” things that allow us to feel we have celebrated Easter properly. But perhaps all that means is that we have been forced out of the dull, domesticated patterns into which we have asked God to fit. Sunday morning, just as I was feeling saddened by the fact that we would not be able to be present physically at our church, I was told that one of our faculty families was on the front lawn to sing Easter hymns. As they sang in confident and bold harmony the words of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” I realized that there was more than one way to celebrate Easter “properly.” I thanked God that this family had been open to the improvising power of the Resurrection that invited them to new ways of announcing God’s presence and power in our world on this Easter morning.

As we enter into this next season of the church year between Easter and Pentecost, may we be open to the unexpected ways in which our Lord wants to be present in our lives this very year—when we, like the disciples, might be tempted to go into our own kinds of hiding from fear rather than opening ourselves to the infinite and unimaginable possibilities to a God who has conquered death.

May you know the “wildness” of God’s mercy in your life today.

Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976