Canon Jim Irvinethe penultimate WORD
Series 2003 - May
Imitatio dei - Compassion and Mercy


The Irvine Tartan  ē My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican



In this Great Forty Days how might we presume to praise God?  How might our response to the unexpected redemption of Easter begin to adequately address the source of our joy?  Chocolate eggs notwithstanding, how can we possibly clear our throats sufficiently to give voice that would echo in the vaulted canopy of heaven itself?

We can expect to fail.  But praise of the One who restores us will be nonetheless exacted.  The words will be inadequate to contain both the expansive affection of a redeemer and the intimate assurances of compassion and mercy.  Eloquence inevitably fails even the most glib of us.  Practice as we will, our voices in prose and praise are absorbed in the immensity of redeemed creation and only silence can be heard.

Our praise of God in Jesus is given voice and hearing in our imitatio dei.  Our reflection of the One who encounters us from the perspective of a Cross enables compassion and mercy to be felt first by me and then by you and then in the broken lives around us.  And there is no scarcity of broken lives around us.

For me to offer other than compassion and mercy to others is to diminish both them and me in my response to Easter.  And it diminishes the One who startled Mary in a garden early as well.  Itís as though something other than compassion and mercy could praise the One who bore scars and sin and broke bread with followers by the shore.  Itís as though a liturgical thank you would satisfy the heart of the One whose heart embraced the heart-broken.

Itís like a polite gesture that concludes an obligation or response.  I ask you for the salt, and passing the salt I simply conclude our transaction with a ďThank you.Ē  Nothing more need be said.  Youíve been praised Ė at least youíve been thanked!  Iíve been satisfied.  It is enough, we think: it is finished.

But praise is not polite.  It isnít the automatic courteous response of Miss Manners to the largesse of another.

Praise is more.  Much more.  And less.  In large things and in small things, it is my expression of compassion and mercy in the lives of folks Iíve hurt.  The measure is proportionate to the expression of compassion and mercy that has been given me as an Easter surprise wrapped in grace.

Imitatio dei draws me beyond a great big loud thank you into the hurts and sorrows needing the redemption of my efforts of compassion and mercy.  Jesus said as much in the Upper Room when he breathed on the ten whom he found there that first Easter night.  The minion was told that whomever they might forgive would be forgiven.  And those whom they chose not to forgive?  Why, theyíd remain unforgiven of course!  They would remain broken.  They would remain broken-hearted!

Jesus calls those who recognize his compassion and mercy to reflect his saving health Ė his salvation! Ė in the lives of others.

I donít do that well, nor do I engage in it often.  And I suspect that you, dear reader, are as negligent as I.  The risk appears to be almost too great!  To get close to the broken-hearted and discouraged and worn-down folks?  Weíd prefer to give voice to Easter praise in other ways!  Thrilling Alleluias are always more fun than I can manage.  Having sung myself hoarse, I feel that I have praised the One whose wounds measure a costly sense of compassion and mercy.

Iím dismayed to think that this isnít enough.  And that it never will be enough.  I have learned that more is wanted and what that is will inevitably be less.  The author of our salvation wants our compassion and mercy, inadequate though it will be.  Not compassion and mercy reverently laid at his feet, but courageously expressed in the lives of others, hungry for it, thirsting for it.  That is wanted more than praise.  That becomes praise!  And in its provision, for all my inadequacy, I discover that praise writ large and spoken loud fills a redeemed world!  Compassion and mercy, though limited by my awkwardness in coming close to the heart-felt hurts of others, exceeds the purest note of my praise.

The opportunity for praise doesnít evade us.  At every turn I discover those needful of the compassion and grace that has touched me.  In a strangerís face and in the soiled face I see the victim of a broken world and in that identity I see wounds reminiscent of a scourging and thorns and nails.  In a familiar face and in the sparkling face I see the same victim Ė hidden beneath a veneer of frightened courage.  Each one an opportunity for time invested, an engaging ear and a careful touch.

The opportunity, Iím discovering, is close at hand and at a great distance as well.

I am moved to see the face of the innocent unjustly sentenced by Pilate in the countenances of Iraqi Muslims and Israeli Jews Ė as they cradle their dead in their arms, the nameless targets of smart bombs and suicide bombers.  Jesus invariably stands with the broken of this world without sectarian bias.  After all, his objective is to redeem the world!  I am struck how selfish and silly my praise has been in the past, safely offered and disengaged from a world for which the King of all Creation spent his life demonstrating compassion and mercy.


Copyright © 2003 James T. Irvine


Ashes to Easter

Series 2003

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton