Does anyone listen to, and enjoy, the Radio 4 Game ‘Just a Minute’? Let’s have a go.......Can I ask you to talk about ‘Sunday Lunch’ (an entirely random choice) for a minute without pause, umming and ahhing and repetition.?
Sometimes as I look through the liturgy I am struck by the sheer level of repetition. Some words and phrases are repeated over and over again; maybe the word peace is the most obvious. But then there’s the word ‘mercy:’
‘Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,’
Lord have mercy, Christ and have mercy, Lord have mercy,’ ‘
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and
‘Most merciful Lord, your loves compels us to come in’ etc.
Now I don’t believe the writers of the liturgy have been lazy and can’t be bothered to think of and use alternative words. Far from it, for I believe that liturgy is written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I believe that certain words such as ‘grace, mercy and peace’ are oft repeated because they are important words; they are the words that describe the very character of God and of course we are called on to mirror, magnify even, these characteristics as followers of Christ.
So, what does the word mercy actually mean, what would it mean for us to be agents of God’s mercy?
I think Mercy can be thought of as ‘the ongoing exercise of compassion to those in need.’ Mercy isn’t a one off action, but a continuous stream of activity. It is an orientation animated through action. Mercy is liberating and healing. Finally, and this is the hard bit, it is indiscriminate, lavish, and costly. Mercy doesn’t come cheap. Mercy, is in fact the ability to give and keep giving of ourselves; that is why Pope Francis has insisted that ‘The Name of God is Mercy.’
As Christians our relationship with mercy should be twofold: First, we are called onto accept from deep within that we are in need to mercy, that mercy is in some ways the energy that allows us to go on ‘Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy,’ and then we are to be agents of mercy. It’s simple - we receive in order that we may give; this is the very pattern of the sacramental life.
In today’s reading we are given a wonderful insight into this twin dynamic. The blind man knows that he is in need of mercy: ‘Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me.’ First and foremost, before he has been given the opportunity to ask for his physical healing, what he asks for is mercy: that ongoing experience of knowing that he is loved, cared for and cherished, not because of himself but in spite of himself. For sure he then receives his physical healing, but not until after he has asked for his inner healing.
How seriously do we take the notion of mercy, how often do we pray for our own inner healing, how open are we to the compassion of God? These are some of the questions that the reading poses.
Can I finish by offering you something practical to do?
Why not this week spend a few minutes each day, maybe just five or ten minutes, reflecting on the word mercy and allowing yourselves to be healed from within by the God whose name is Mercy?
Why not quietly in the privacy of your own homes say over and again the words used in the liturgy:
‘Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy, Lord have Mercy;’ they might just be the most healing and transforming words you ever pray. They are words entirely worthy of repitition, Amen.