Mercy Moments: Episode Eight

Mercy Moments: Our lives are dripping with mercy.  Indeed, our world is drenched in it.

“We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song.” -St. Augustine

Throughout the year I spent volunteering in Ecuador, I experienced many old and familiar holidays, feasts, and celebrations through a new lens of local traditions and customs.  Lent turned out to be the most memorable season for me.  Beginning with “playing carnival” during the three days before Ash Wednesday in which the whole country shut down so that everyone would be free to throw paint and water at each other; the season concluded with a much more reverent Holy Week remembrance.  I spent the afternoon of the Saturday before Holy Week, at church, with other volunteers and parishioners, intricately weaving palms into beautiful altar displays.  No more fiddling around with a single palm, attempting to make a cross during the homily.  These palms were impressive.  The following day, we took part in a community-wide Palm Sunday procession through the streets of our neighborhood in which we reenacted Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.  The rest of the week was full of liturgies, services, and meditations on the washing of the feet and the seven last words of Christ.  The culmination of the week’s events was a live version of The Stations of the Cross on Good Friday in which we once again processed throughout the streets only to return to the church courtyard where three men were raised high and tied to crosses.  The crucifixion scene which played out right in front of us was intense; quite different from my 8th-grade class’s live Stations of the Cross in which kids’ silhouettes were projected on a white screen (or was it a bed sheet?) in a dimly lit sanctuary.

All of the Holy Week celebrations were noticeably more elaborate than what I had been accustomed to growing up.  However, when we arrived for Mass on Easter Sunday, the church was strikingly sparse.  Where was the congregation?  Maybe it was a grand gesture symbolizing the empty tomb.  Maybe they had taken the news of the Resurrection to the beach.  Maybe they were visiting family.  Or maybe, just maybe, the community was stuck on Good Friday.

A community in which most people lived on less than two dollars a day, where some were sent to work before they ever entered primary school and many more never studied beyond middle school, where streets were unpaved and the dust created all too common respiratory difficulties in babies and young people, where running water didn’t exist and potable water was often considered a luxury, where underemployment was the norm and looking for work was a full-time job, where addiction and violence were considered family issues and interventions were unacceptable, where machismo was the rule of the land and women’s dignity was confronted daily.  Could it be that it was just easier for the community to believe in the Savior who was crucified alongside them than to spread the news of the Risen Christ they had not yet seen? Forget Easter alleluias. They were a Good Friday people, singing songs of lamentation, longing for liberation.

While the U.S. churches I have attended over the past two decades continue to be packed on Easter, I’m not convinced I keep showing up because of my deep belief in the Resurrection. I love both Church and family Easter celebrations in the U.S.  Incense and candles at the Easter Vigil?  Yes, please!  Still, I can’t help but think that a fervent belief in the Resurrection has to be lived out beyond a day that includes wearing a fabulous new dress, going to Mass, hunting for Easter baskets, and eating ham.  If I really lived in the awareness of the Resurrection, wouldn’t that compel me to work towards our collective liberation?  Despite elaborate Easter celebrations in some parts of the world, maybe there’s a piece of all of us that’s stuck on Good Friday. 

Our collective liberation can’t only offer gratitude for the past and hope for the eternal.  Our collective liberation must be realized in the present.

Luke’s account of the first Easter tells us that two men in dazzling garments appeared to the women at the empty tomb saying, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?  He is not here, but he has been raised.” (Luke 24:5-6) This question remains relevant for us who, like the women, are grieving the crucified people of our times. And while it may be easier to recognize the ways in which Christ continues to be crucified in our world today, we are assured that the living one is risen and present among us as surely as he appeared to Mary Magdalene and his disciples. At once, both the crucified and the risen Jesus is present among us.

The hope of the Resurrection is not only that for which we long; it is also the Mercy gifted to us each moment of every day.  This mercy invites us into the work of the Resurrection in which we acknowledge the dignity of all of creation groaning to be free.  Now that the Holy Week services have passed and the Easter celebrations have dimmed, let us begin again this work of the Resurrection: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned. May we receive and share the Mercy gifted all around us and in doing so become free.

*Special thanks to my sister and Mercy Moments’ editor, Bernadette Madden.

Calling for Mercy

Join Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri in the work of the Resurrection.  Click here to learn more about volunteering with our agency. We have volunteer roles across programs to work with clients receiving services in health and nutrition, counseling, disaster response, immigration and refugees rebuilding their lives in new communities.