The former Notre Dame University theologian, Nathan D. Mitchell, noted well, “Easter began with a question, not an answer. It began not with trumpet blasts and lilies and shouts of ‘Alleluia’ but with terror” (Nathan D. Mitchell, “The Amen Corner,” Worship, Volume 80, Number 7 (2006), 67). The messenger to the women, who came to the tomb the first Easter morning, spoke not about answers and meanings, but the unwelcome announcement about absence: “He is not here” (Mark 16:6). The original ending of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:8) states chillingly the stark words about the women, “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Recall the episode about the two dejected disciples of Jesus on the road to the village of Emmaus on Easter Sunday evening (Luke 24:13-35). They were troubled by a problem about presence. How could God be “present to save” if God’s own anointed Servant was condemned by God’s Law and died forsaken even by his Father? While they were pondering these and other questions, a stranger joins them, who opens for them the Hebrew Scriptures about why and how God’s Servant had to suffer and to die and so bring salvation to all the world.
The two persons felt a resonance in their hearts and invited the stranger to stay with them at the inn, where they sat down to eat supper. During an opening prayer of grace when the bread was broken, they recognized the Stranger, who disappears. Their eyes were opened, not on presence and splendor, but on absence and emptiness. Luke, in telling us this story, is teaching us how to assent to loss, how to consent to the presence of his absence. They saw immediately that they recognized his presence “in the breaking of the bread,” ritually and symbolically in the Eucharist and in his gathered Assembly through faith. As Louise-Marie Chauvet says, God crossed himself out on the Cross so that we may see him in a ritual that unites believers through a discourse of absence requiring our conversion and faith. As Mitchell says, “Faith is precisely trust in a God who, though invisible and unimaginable, is heard in the cry of the poor and the call of the neighbor, a God accessible through the practice of justice and mercy.”
On this “Mercy Sunday,” this is the call of faith inviting us to hear the cry of the poor and rejected by human-beings.
About the author: Fr. Robert B. Fisher, SVD, SThD was ordained in the order of SVD in 1965 and received his Doctorate in Theology in 1969 and served as a priest, missionary and professor in the Philippines, Ghana and the U.S.