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Interesting to the readings this morning are the words love and mercy, used interchangeably from the first lectionary reading to the psalm. In the first reading from the prophet Hosea, (6:6), we read, For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice…Fast on the heels of Hosea—and referencing the same, we have the Psalm whose refrain states four times: It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice. So which is it? Love or mercy that God desires?

As soon as I wrote that question, I was catapulted back to Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, Mystical Hope, chapter two—a brilliant explication given by author Helen Luke and referenced by Cynthia, of the word “mercy.” (I’m sure many of you have heard me explain this before but it bears repeating.) “In her book, Old Age, Helen Luke explains that “the word “mercy” derives from the ancient Etruscan word merc; the words “commerce” and “merchant” share this same root. And so at heart, mercy means some kind of exchange or transaction. It is a connection word…The root meaning of exchange persisted and developed in another context, its meaning deepening through the French merci to a grateful response and kindness of heart, and finally to the compassion and forgiveness, including all our shades of darkness, where we are able to open ourselves to the Mercy”…(Bourgeault, p.23-24)

Although that sounds like love to me, the next page “seals the deal” with the following: So when we think of mercy, we should be thinking first and foremost of a bond, an infallible link of love that holds the created and uncreated realms together. The mercy of God does not come and go, granted to some and refused to others. Why? Because it is unconditional—always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which we live and move and have our being. (p. 25)

Sit with that, if you will, and see if it doesn’t call forth a hearty “Thank you” to God.