Our Roman Catholic siblings have added an extra layer to this past Sunday’s liturgy. With us they celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, replete with white vestments, alleluias, the appearances to the disciples (including Thomas) for the Gospel, and all the accouterments that mark our 50-day focus on the resurrection of Jesus. But a more recent tradition reminds us that we just marked His crucifixion as well; it doesn’t let us scoot by it and on to happier things, as if we could ignore our giant elephant roommate that is the passion and death that led to God’s Easter reply.
Divine Mercy Sunday as an official celebration may only be two decades old, but surely sprung to life as a reflection on humanity’s self-inflicted suffering throughout the twentieth century. It is connected to both the crucifixion and resurrection, as it points to Christ’s self-offering as our only hope of abundant, eternal life now and in the Age to Come. On the eve of World War II, St. Faustina imagined the blood and water pouring out of Jesus’ side as the wellspring of God’s mercy. Her Polish compatriot St. John Paul II, who witnessed first-hand the decades of war, mechanistic politics and global imperialism that followed, saw the need to hold up this vision at the dawn of the new millennium.
Divine Mercy. “And my whole hope is only in Your exceeding great mercy,” as Augustine prayed many centuries ago. A few weeks ago I explored what it means to ask why God has allowed this pandemic to happen and continue. To my mind, the only Scripturally faithful answer is the possibility that God wants us to see the ultimate effect of structural injustices in our society and our refusal to build an equitable social infrastructure that could respond to public crises on the scale that these crises demand. Because this lack of social infrastructure is directly responsible for the spread of the pandemic in North America. I think God wants us to examine our attitudes and ideologies and fears and idolatries that continually hinder the pursuit of the common and the good, that surrender massive amounts of power into the hands of private interests that are indifferent to the common good.
I also think God wants us to pray for His mercy. What does that mean right now? Well, it doesn’t mean that we’re to grovel and flagellate and try to appease a deity that has vengefully inflicted this pandemic because we looked at him the wrong way once. That isn’t who God is. Part of our appeal to God’s mercy can and should include the simple, childlike request for a miracle, a prayer that God wipes this pandemic away, that those who are suffering are restored to full health, that their loved ones can join them and comfort them. A reprieve from consequences, for the sake of our dignity does flow from Christ’s wounds. “By his stripes we are healed.”
But we can’t seek a reprieve from consequences as a way to ignore how those consequences happened in the first place. We can’t skip on to Easter if we ignore Good Friday. The goal can’t be to go back to “business as usual,” because “business as usual” is what allowed this virus to flourish. The deeper work of mercy, the power of repentance takes us beyond “business as usual.” It instills in us a commitment to live better, to love our neighbours better, and to be better as a society and as people. To see the promise of humanity in the kid down the street or across the world, someone worth investing in, not hoarding from.
To understand that effective transportation, accessible healthcare, quality education, labour standards and living wages, greater support for non-profits, community-based organizations and localized small businesses all build a more resilient, prosperous and healthy society that can respond to the changes and chances of the world. To see these as things that God wants for the sake of our welfare and dignity, and to see our collective investment in them as faithful responses to His command to love our neighbour as ourselves. To see the pursuit of these things as our vocation to “seek the welfare of the city” in the present age.
To truly repent and seek God’s mercy is to ask God for the imagination, courage and desire to pursue greater health for all people, to see all people as worthy of this investment. And that’s the problem, because we can’t manufacture it on our own, and compelling people in a repressive way will start to legitimate their unfounded fears of a “red scare.” We need the political will for it. Dare I say it, we should want to pay taxes, seeing them as investments in the future.
And so, Augustine prays, “my whole hope is only in Your exceeding great mercy. Give what You command, and command what You will.” I believe that this will, the habitual development of new norms that we expect of ourselves and of our public institutions can flow from the blood and water pouring out from the wounds of Christ. Our ability to see others as deserving full dignity, health and respect emerges as we see the perfect human person, the Glorified and Risen Christ who appears to his disciples, to you and to me. He appears with his scars and wounds to remind us of his river of mercy, his deep commitment to abide with us and heal us, if we ask to come along for the ride.
For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.