Author’s note: I am in need of mercy. I need to better receive it from God. I also need to grow in extending it to my fellow Christians. So, dear community, forgive me: this note is for me. I’m sharing it in case it can help you in any way, too. Lord have mercy on us all!
One morning a few days ago, I noticed a rose blooming in my garden. I’ve had only a few roses this summer, and I love them. So I intended to go out, cut it, and bring it into the house for us all to enjoy. Unfortunately this is such a busy week for our family that I didn’t actually get to it until the next morning. To my dismay, when I approached the rose, I found that it was already widely opened and also that it was full of holes. Apparently the prior day’s heat and a couple of voracious Japanese beetles nearly did the rose in before I got to it. My immediate thought was, “I won’t bother with this one. It’s too far gone.”
But then I thought about how precious this rose is: I’ve had so few roses in my garden this summer, it is one of only a handful! Then I smelled it, and the glorious aroma that can only come from a home-grown rose filled my lungs. So I cut it after all, put it in a favorite little vase, and brought it inside.
As I prepared to write this note on the mercy of God I thought again about my rose, and I began to see a parallel between the story of me and my little shredded rose and the mercy of God. Think about it with me, if you will: How often do we intend to do something and not get around to it until much later? How often do we meet a person or arrive at a situation only to discover that he/she/it is nearly too far gone and/or full of “holes;” imperfect or not to our liking? How often are we tempted to turn away from a task or an individual because it seems that it is/they are impossible or not “worth” our time? How often do we refuse to show mercy, love, acceptance of, and forgiveness to the people and/or opportunities that God sets before us?
Glory to God who does not give up on US for being so lacking in mercy. Instead, He abundantly gives us His grace repeatedly: through His Church, through the sacraments, through the Holy Scriptures, through fellow Christians, through the saints – I could go on and on listing all the ways in which God grants us mercy. His mercy is always there, whether or not we can (or choose to) see it.
But instead of “not bothering with us because we are too far gone,” God sees our preciousness. After all, He created us in His image and loves us with perfect Love. He sees what we experience; He knows what has put the “holes” in our souls, whether things we have chosen for ourselves or things that have happened to us; and yet He continues to love us and extend His mercy to us.
St. Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:15) I don’t know about you, but, left to my own devices, my life is anything but fragrant, as I tend to choose smelly attitudes and the stench of my own selfishness. But St. Paul’s letter says that, to God, that is, in His eyes, in His estimation, we are “the fragrance of Christ!” Wow! Only God’s mercy can make it possible for us to contain His aroma. Only through His compassionate grace can we feebly offer His fragrance to the world. But apparently it is right here inside each of us. (Incidentally, that means His fragrance is in others, too: but we must approach them despite whatever may deter us, to truly smell it.)
Just as I cut my imperfect rose and brought it into my home, by the mercy of God He has cut us from our sinful passions and brought us into His holy house. He has placed us in the right “container,” the Church, and filled it with what we need for nourishment. His aroma flows through us and can bring great joy to all around us if we allow it to, and if we encourage others to approach us despite our flaws. Similarly, as we draw near to others and extend His mercy despite their flaws, we will be blessed with the beauty of Christ’s aroma wafting into our lives through them!
By the way, in case you wondered, that rose is now sitting on our family’s prayer table. It is a perfect reminder for whatever days it has left, of God’s mercy towards us despite our imperfections. My shredded rose sits in our little holy space offering what it has, its glorious aroma, to all who pass by. May we do the same, by the grace and mercy of God.
”And now, O Master, let Thy hand shelter me, and let Thy mercy come upon me; for my soul is troubled and in distress at its departure from my wretched and defiled body. May the evil counsel of the adversary never overtake it and bind it in darkness through the sins which I have committed in this life, whether in knowledge or in ignorance. Be merciful unto me, O Master, and let not my soul see the dark forms of the evil demons, but may Thy bright and shining Angels receive it. Give glory to Thy holy name, and by Thy might lead me unto Thy divine judgment seat. When I am being judged, may the hand of the prince of this world not seize me and snatch me, a sinner, into the depths of hades; but do Thou stand by me, and be unto me a Savior and Helper, for these present bodily torments are a joy to Thy servants.”
— Prayer of St. Eustratius, Saturday Midnight Office
For even more on mercy, read Fr. Anthony Coniaris’ article here before teaching your Sunday Church School students about it: http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith7124
The following are ideas of ways to help children learn about mercy. Note: while these are not specifically Orthodox, they are easily adaptable to be used in an Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School lesson:
Here is an excellent, hands-on object lesson that can help your Sunday Church School students begin to grasp the greatness of God’s mercy: http://freebiblelessons.net/object-lessons/unlimited-mercy
With your Sunday Church School students, discuss the beatitude “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Here’s a game that you can play to aid the discussion: http://www.christianitycove.com/the-beatitudes-and-mercy-have-mercy-on-me-0327/1195/
Here’s a suggestion for using flowers (of all things!) to talk about God’s mercy with children: http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/mercy-flowers-a-fun-bible-object-lesson-for-your-kids
Find a lesson plan about showing mercy and forgiving others as Christ discusses in Matthew 18:21-33, here: http://realitysf.com/assets/discovering-god-material/godismercygrace-kids.pdf
Share this resource of ideas for family activities and discussion on mercy with the parents of your Sunday Church School students. (Note: this not an Orthodox resource, but can easily be adapted and used by Orthodox Christian families!) http://dg4kids.com/attribute/god-is-merciful/