A moment of distraction and silliness in church (what do you mean, you never have them?)... So can you see the smiley faces in the Kyrie? Is this really what I should have been thinking about while praying for God's mercy on the solemn First Sunday of Advent?
Well, at least it made me think about mercy. I remembered hearing the late Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh tell a delightful story: someone once took him to task for the way the prayer "Lord, have mercy" is sung over and over again - seemingly incessantly - in the Orthodox Liturgy. Wasn't this "vain repetition", or wallowing in sin rather than trusting in God's forgiveness? Metropolitan Anthony replied with an account of his grandfather, who used to say that he liked a glass of wine because it made him feel like a new man. "And this new man, he also likes a glass of wine..." And so on!
So with mercy. Yes, it's a dread and awe-ful thing to stand in our brokenness before the Holy One. "Who may abide the day of his coming?" And yet this is the God who teaches us to walk and takes us in his arms (cf Hosea 11:3) - presumably when we stumble and fall, because you can't learn to walk without doing that. And, surely, with a smile? The taste of God's mercy gladdens us and emboldens us to ask for more, and more, and more... It's even more inexhaustible than our need for it.
Some say that the Greek word eleison (have mercy) has the same root as elaion, which is olive oil. To receive mercy is to be anointed, for celebration and healing.
Praise the Lord, my soul... [who gives] wine that gladdens human hearts,oil to make their faces shine,and bread that sustains their hearts. ( Psalm 104)