Peter Gabriel’s voice sang low and pleading, the words “mercy, mercy, looking for mercy….” (Mercy Street, 1986) It’s a lovely and haunting melody that conveys the heart that searches for compassion, desperate for forgiveness when none is deserved. Mercy.
The Psalmist pleads for mercy over and over as did Job when he said “I could only plead for mercy” (Job 9:15)
As a child, I was instructed the altar, the wooden structure with a cushion for the knees, was not a place to play. You didn’t stand on it, run on it or sit on it. You came here to kneel and pray. This was serious business when you come in front of the congregation to kneel at this place. At times, my parents called it the mercy seat.
I didn’t know what mercy was, but I knew it was serious. It was personal stuff and some people cried when they knelt and prayed but they all seemed to feel better after spending time at this mercy seat. Some of them scared me as a child, their emotions so……loud. But mostly, folks were quiet when they knelt there.
We don’t call it the mercy seat much these days but it is. I know God’s mercy isn’t confined to a particular place but I love the symbolism of it. The tangible where we can physically bow our bodies and heart, humble and quiet ourselves to beg of God, “have mercy on me and hear my prayer” (Psalm 4:1). Psalm 25:16, “Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress.”
Mercy, that which isn’t earned or deserved…compassion in our need.
It’s the close of another service. The message ended with a compelling video that described who God is and asked “I wonder, do you know him?” Henry knelt at the alter asking those who wanted to come pray with him. And I saw Lloyd. In his chair, at the end of the row next to a window, he got out of his chair, turned and knelt. Right there. It was one of those moments I wanted to photograph, not with a camera because it would be one dimensional. No photo could show the meaning of this simple motion. My heart has captured it and replayed it. To see his tall frame, dark skin and bright smile, quietly slip out of his seat, turn and kneel, head bowed over that chair. His mercy seat.
It’s how our services end each Sunday, with Henry asking, “Pray with me?” and with more men going forward than is room at our Mercy Seat so they crowd around and make their own space. Some kneeling at their chairs, some standing in the back, a visual sign of unity in prayer.
God’s mercy is free and freely given.