This morning at Morning Prayer we read Psalm 136. It begins:
“O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious,
for his mercy endures forever.”
And that refrain, “for his mercy endures forever,” repeats in every one of the next 25 verses as the psalmist tells the story of creation, of the Exodus from Egypt and the establishment of Israel. God’s mercy, he says, endures it all.
It got me wondering, what does mercy mean? The best answer I have come across is from Thomas Aquinas who says that mercy is a kind of active sorrow provoked by evil in the world and in people.
Friends, it can be easy to respond to evil only with anger. In a real way, evil deserves our anger. For instance, this past week, it has been hard for me (and maybe for you as well) to watch what is happening in Afghanistan without a some anger, particularly on behalf of terrified children and their panicked parents trapped between a regime that hates them and the closed gates of the Kabul airport.
Yet, Psalm 136 suggests that even there, God’s mercy endures. God’s mercy endures even in the midst of the suicide bomb blasts this morning. And here is the arresting and uncomfortable fact about God’s mercy: it is extended (in different ways), to both victims and those that persecute them. God’s mercy knows sin harms them both.
What does this mean for us today? Well, we are not God (as one of my brothers used to say; “Thank you, Captain Obvious”). But we can be actively grateful for God’s mercy on us in the midst of our sins. We can also be his active instruments in extending mercy to others, even if they have sinned against us (no need to start with the Taliban either – most of us have been sinned against by many people closer to home than they are).
Mercy does not minimize sin. It does not minimize the harm sin causes or the pain we feel. In fact, mercy sees sin and its terrible effects most clearly. Still, a godly mercy endures in the face of it all. To reference Thomas Aquinas one more time. “True godliness is not disdainful but compassionate, and again it is written that Jesus ‘seeing the multitudes had compassion on them because they were distressed like sheep without a shepherd.’”
The Rev. Peter Frank, rector