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May 2

Pastor's Minute

How Wide Is God’s Mercy?

It’s inescapable. We are living in historic times. The first criminal trial of a former

President of the United States is underway – and every millimeter of the audio-visual

spectrum seems to be filled with the minute details of the courtroom.

Many seem to be reveling in this event. I am saddened. It shouldn’t be this way. As the

jury was being chosen, I reflected deeply – could I honestly hear the case and weigh the

evidence fairly? Could anyone, either for or against, truly be unbiased (unless they’ve

lived under a rock or in the remote wilderness for the past four-plus years)?

Which led me to consider a question that has been running through my mind and heart

for many years now – can a person found guilty of a crime truly find forgiveness among

the followers of Jesus?

There’s a hymn I remember from my childhood that was in the “old” Red hymnal (not to

be confused with our current Cranberry hymnal). I remember it because we sang it at

our church the week that President Richard Nixon resigned from office, plagued by the

Watergate case. There were many solid Republicans in the congregation (my family

included) who were left wondering how to think about a president who was about to be

impeached for orchestrating and covering-up efforts (criminal, some said) to subvert the

Democratic opposition for the 1972 Presidential election (which, if you remember, Nixon

won in a landslide).

The reason I recall this hymn – it’s in our Cranberry hymnal, #587 & 588 – were the

words by Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863):

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;

there’s a kindness in God’s justice which is more than liberty.

There’s no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heav’n.

There’s no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment giv’n.

I remember thinking at the time that, no matter what the rest of us thought or felt, that

God’s mercy (and grace) are so far beyond our understanding that there was nothing

that couldn’t be forgiven.

For the love of God is broader than the measures of our mind;

and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.

But we make this love too narrow by false limits of our own:

and we magnify its strictness with a zeal God will not own.

There are many who have committed crimes – serious, deadly crimes – that are so in

need of forgiveness, mercy, grace and kindness. One or two (or more) mistakes or

misjudgment in life shouldn’t exclude one from the entire community. The Redeemer

whose resurrection we celebrate in this Easter season died for all, for the whole world,

for the cosmos. Isn’t redemption possible for the criminal as well as the neighbor?

‘Tis not all we owe to Jesus; it is something more than all;

greater good because of evil, larger mercy through the fall

Make our love, O God, more faithful; let us take you at your word,

and our lives will be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord.

Frederick Faber (1814-1863) was one of a number of English clergy who converted

from the Anglican Church to Roman Catholicism in the 19th century. Although born into

an Anglican home, he was reared a strict Calvinist. After attending Oxford, he was

ordained as an Anglican priest and began his ministry as a rector. Influenced by his

friends, Faber converted to Catholicism in 1845.

Faber and his friends were influenced by the rituals and tradition of Rome. First forming

a community “Brothers of the Will of God,” Faber eventually joined the Oratory, an order

of secular priests established in 1564 by St. Philip Neri in Rome. It was written of him

that “Faber was the moving and guiding spirit [of the Oratory] as long as he lived, a

great preacher and a man of charming personality.”

Having been raised on the hymns of Newton, Cowper and the Wesleys during his

Anglican youth, Faber recognized that Roman Catholics lacked a tradition of more

recent metrical hymnody in English. Taking this task upon himself to remedy, by the

time he died in 1863, he had contributed 150 hymns.1

Two of Faber’s hymns we might be more familiar with are Faith of Our Fathers and My

God, How Wonderful Thou Art (both in the ELW “Cranberry” hymnal). I haven’t heard

There’s A Wideness in quite a while, likely because the melody is simply not very

“melodic” to the contemporary ear. But the words …

I believe we can rejoice and be glad that the entirety of God’s grace and mercy are

beyond our comprehension. We’ll never find the limits of God’s endless, steadfast,

enduring love.


Pr. Mark




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