Mercy Meets Mary
Easter Sunday: Acts 10:34-43; Col. 3:1-4; John 20:1-20
© David B. Batchelder – 2017
According to Ed Dowling, a Roman Catholic priest, “sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses. When we put them on, we see the awful person, sometimes even ourselves, a bit more gently, and we are blessed in return.”+
My prayer is that you leave today seeing your life and this world with this kind of clarity.
How many funerals or cemeteries have you been to in the last 12 months? Too many, I suspect.
When Mary comes to the tomb, she is first to arrive and discover the crime, which is the conclusion she reaches when she sees what appears to be vandalism. The tomb has been opened, and the body snatched!
So Easter begins with a misinterpretation of the evidence, a leap to judgement that her fading faith cannot resist. We will be gentle with Mary; we know how prone we are to imagine the worst.
Whereas Peter and the “beloved” disciple are confused – Mary is inconsolable. She sobs at the tomb. Her tears flow from the pool of her deep loss, a profound loss that is swallowing her whole.
Whatever else we want to say about Easter, it involves – perhaps even requires – that we face our losses, as well as the garbage our losses dredge up, especially self-blame and recrimination.
Loss, which seems to multiply as we grow older, magnifies the demons we spend so much energy fending off: our fears and compulsions, our shame and self-loathing.
We’re ready to pray like the 4 year old girl overheard reciting the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trash baskets, as we forgive those who pass trash against us.”
I think we can all understand how Mary can see Jesus without recognizing him. Between the two, seeing and recognizing, there is a world of difference. But, you know this, don’t you. It happens to us every time we say to ourselves, “I knew such and such, but I just didn’t realize.”
Well – why didn’t we? Is it because some insecurity got in the way? Were we too angry that we didn’t really listen and hear what was said? . . . or got distracted by the past we can’t help but replay over and over? Any one of these, or a combination thereof, can blur our vision so that all we can think about is what our loss has stolen from us.
It doesn’t take long to get caught in a death-spiral thinking the worst about a family member, a friend, even God and the church, and, especially, think the worst about ourselves.
The only power I have ever known capable of rescuing me from such a death-spiral is MERCY.
Mercy meets Mary in the garden when she could not see beyond her tears, and trust beyond her pain. It was a mercy that the gardener called Mary’s name breaking the stranglehold of grief choking her. The stranger she presumes to be the gardener meets her sorrow with a mercy that promises to do more than merely restore the past.
We cannot really live in the past; we can only exist. Every one of us has a future that can be newly made. You future and mine, whatever it holds, is not merely a projection of what has already happened. It is fresh and new, rich in possibility, funded and filled with the mercy of God.
Pope Francis says that “Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instils in us the courage to look to the future with hope.” Mercy is what resurrection looks like on the ground in life’s ditches.
Mercy is how resurrection reaches out and touches those who know they are near the edge of the abyss. I propose to you that Easter is the mercy of God rising up in the flesh of the bruised and broken. Resurrection power is never abstract. It is always incarnational. It takes root in blood and bone.
When it becomes available, you will enrich you life if you watch the new documentary,
“Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Love Poems from the Murder Capital of the World.’’*
The film tells the story** of children saved by learning to put set their imagination to words in the form of poetry. In the winter of 2012, Spencer Reece, an award winning American poet and Episcopal priest, came to live at Honduras’ only girls’ orphanage for a year. The orphanage is named Our Little Roses. It is a home and school for abused and abandoned girls in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the city with the highest murder rate in the world, a city where children bathe in brown, putrid river water, and scavenge for scraps at the city dump.
Reece knew the power of poetry in his own life. He was no stranger to brokenness. He spent time in a mental hospital with suicidal thoughts; he was estranged from his parents for 10 years; he knew the ravages of alcoholism. His published collection title Road to Emmaus includes the poems he wrote on his way to healing.
So Reece applied for and received a Fulbright Scholarship to spend a year teaching poetry to the girls. It was a challenge. He began by having them memorize a number of classic poems – like Emily Dickenson’s “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” This helped the girls begin to find words to speak their own pain – which they did, in poems of their own, with the collection being published later this year.
One of the girls at Our Little Roses is Tania, who came to the home as a 4-year-old, badly abused. She was found in a well with a rock around her neck. Reece was honest with her about his own brokenness. After she heard him speak, Tania said, ‘It makes sense to me now why God brought you here. It’s because you understand us.’’’ As Reece tells it – “That was a pivotal moment in my own life.” “I felt ordained, anointed, and Tania was my priest.’’
There is a word for what took place between Reece and Tania; that word is MERCY. Reece and Tania were both being raised from death.
Today, many of the girls of that orphanage have gone to college and entered the community. One as a dentist teaching the university dental school. Another graduated from law school. Another earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering. And there are scores of teachers, businesswomen and entrepreneurs who have broken the cycle of violence, abuse, and poverty. These are resurrection stories that reveal the power of mercy. Wherever there is mercy, the power of resurrection is at work.
Ann Lamott, who has known a great deal of brokenness and pain in her life, has written a new book Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. She says:
Mercy is radical kindness. Mercy means offering – or being offered – aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, . . . forgiving the unforgivable. Mercy brings to us the miracle of apology, given and accepted, [it brings us] to unashamed humility when we have erred or forgotten (11).
Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber says,++
I cling to the truth of God’s ability to redeem us more than perhaps any other. I have to. I need to. I want to. . . . To say, “Lord have mercy,” is to lay our hope in the redeeming work of the God of Easter as though our lives depended on it. Because they do. It means that we are an Easter people, a people who know that resurrection, especially in and among the least likely people and places, is the way that God redeems even the biggest messes we make.
The poems written by the girls at Our Little Roses, don’t sugarcoat the rage of knowing your family has deserted you. Joan Chrissos reported that when Aylin was 15,
she wrote a poem she titled, “Counting.” “You see,” she says, “every week, every day, every hour, every minute and every second that I pass without my family it feels like a knife trying to get inside a rock.”
In her poem, she wrote: I am the knife and the rock is my life. By the poem’s end, Aylin, arrives at forgiveness, a place that many in this world never reach in life: When I graduate from college and when I am finally somebody in this world, God, I will go straight to Mexico where my mother lives and I will stare at her like I stare at the stars and with a voice that cracks like thunder I will say: I FORGIVE YOU.
Doesn’t that blow you away? That is the power of mercy, which is the power of resurrection, and it can work a miracle in you. Believe that! Never ever forget this: there is more mercy in God than sin in us.+++
Thanks be to God.
+ This is told in Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Ann Lamott (2017) 12.
** In telling this story I have adapted material, and often quoting directly, from The Washington Post article by Joan Chrissos, “The priest who healed orphans with poetry” (April 3, 2017), and from the material on the website of Our Little Roses. Both may be found here:
++ Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People (2015) 160, 161.
+++ William Sloane Coffin Jr. Credo (2004) 85.