I have been praying the Prayer of a Sick Person quite a bit over the last year, especially this summer. Since June 8th, I have had more days with debilitating migraines than without. I have experienced at least three incidences of strokes, the second two with multiple infarcts. I have been unable to do the work for “Come and See” Icons, since my eyesight and depth perception is unreliable. Even the computer work is painful. The business is about to go under, if it hasn’t already. The last Tuesday of August and the first Thursday of September, I coordinated The King’s Jubilee from a hospital bed using my cellphone. I was so grateful I could do that.
The first hospital roommate I had, thought he was being held against his will while people were ransacking his house. He broke free from his restraints and cornered a couple of nurses. They would get him calmed down and restrain and sedate him again. He would sleep for ten minutes, then he would go off again. This went on for seven hours, before they moved me out his room to a room at the extreme other end of the hall, at 4 am. I could still hear him screaming his wife’s name. He was in psychic hell. It is only by the grace of God that I am not in a similar condition. Lord have mercy.
Later that morning, I prayed the prayer above. When I got to the phrase: “let mercy and justice meet”, I thought not only of how I deserve hell and long for heaven (for that is truly what the prayer is asking), but that I also long for it for my tormented former roommate and for my current roommate who suffered a couple of seizures and doesn’t have health insurance, so isn’t going to get the follow up care he needs. He will probably be bankrupted for the rest of his life by the hospital bill on his credit report.
I began to seriously meditate on that phrase of the prayer. It seems, as a society, we crave justice. We want to see wrongdoers punished, the slothful poor, the immoral exposed. That is all just. And it’s all fine when it’s somebody else or somebody else’s child, or somebody else’s best friend. When it strikes closer to home, we seriously plead for mercy. Mercy is where just punishment is withheld. “Lord have mercy!” is the most oft repeated prayer in all our services and private devotions. We know that the Lord is just, but we aren’t asking for justice just yet.
The beauty of this prayer is that it is from the perspective of facing one’s mortality and final judgment and it is calling for God’s justice only to be met by his mercy. This is similar to what I pray for when I
pray “for a good defense at the judgment seat of Christ.” Christ stands in my place and satisfies the demands for justice. I am clothed in my white baptismal garment, hidden in Christ. Mercy is granted. Justice is satisfied.
The icon of the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos is the most apt visual representation of this concept. Mary died because of the fall of Adam. That’s justice. Jesus Christ is there immediately to carry her in his arms like a swaddled babe to life eternal in Glory! That’s justice and mercy having met. It is the hope of every believer hidden in Christ.
This prayer is not just about the sweet by and by though. We pray for the peace of the whole world; Lord have mercy! and the unity of all mankind; Lord have mercy!
As I continued my meditation, I realized that what I have been seeking for, longing for, and working for my whole adult life is to see mercy and justice meet. I want a second chance when I do wrong. I want to help the ex-offender safely get a second shot at life after he is released. I want to be delivered from my illness. I want to help addicts and alcoholics be dilivered from their illnesses. I want my family healed. We expand our family to include others who hope for the same. I want to survive a bad decision or two or three or 146. I want us to find a way to let people find their way forward even though they may have bet on the wrong horse in uncertain economic times.
The Lord told us that if we do not show mercy, we will not be shown mercy. So pray the Jesus Prayer with as long a rope as you want to, if you don’t give alms and still want to let children die because their parents can’t afford healthcare, well, Lord have mercy.
The King’s Jubilee is trying in small, tangible ways to share the mercy of God that we all truly crave with the poor and needy in center city and the prosperous and needy in the suburbs. It is truly “more blessed to give than to receive.” There is no point to prosperity, if you can’t use it to help someone else.
Be someone’s answer to prayer today. It is the tender mercies of God that lead men to repentance.
Cranford Joseph Coulter
director, The King’s Jubilee