WORD FROM THE PASTOR: Ya Gotta Have Heart!

My son once said to me, “Have you ever noticed that Valentine hearts don’t really look like hearts at all?”  And he was certainly right: the greeting cards and candy boxes that we give out this time of year bear little resemblance to the organ that pumps blood through our body.  (And that’s a good thing–most of us would find it rather disgusting to eat candy from a box that looked like a real heart!)

Of course, they’re not supposed to look like “real” hearts–because Valentine’s Day is not about the circulation of the blood.  The Valentine heart is a symbol–a symbol of love and deep emotion.  I remember an old episode of All in the Family in which Archie Bunker and his son-in-law were arguing over the heart.  The Meathead contended that the heart was merely an organ that sent blood rushing around the body, while Archie held that the heart was the seat of feeling and emotion.  Meathead was right in a literal sense–but Archie was right in a symbolic sense.  When we say “heart”, we usually mean the deepest part of ourselves, the real me, my emotions, and my inner thoughts. 

The Bible often relates the heart to our relationship with God.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” says Proverbs (Proverbs 3:5).   And Paul says, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).  The deepest, the innermost part of myself needs to be connected to God, focused on God.  Yet often when the Bible talks about the heart, it says disturbing things: the Book of Genesis says, “Every inclination of man’s heart is evil from childhood” (8:21)  Our Lord Jesus Himself said, “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, greed, adultery, greed, malice, deceit,  lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” (Mark 8:21).   And the prophet Isaiah said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me(29:13).  We human beings obviously have “heart trouble”–because of sin, our hearts are far from God.  And those hearts need to be healed. And part of the healing is for the heart to be broken.  This can even be true physically: I heard recently about a therapy for irregular heartbeat that involves stopping the heart, then shocking it back to action.  In this therapy, the heart has to be “broken”, in a way, before it can be fixed.  And the same is true of our sinful hearts, of our innermost selves: for our hearts to be healed, they need to be broken.  Ash Wednesday, which comes 11 days after Valentine’s Day this year, tells us this in passages from Psalm 51: “The sacrifices acceptable to God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart you will not despise”–and from the Prophet Joel:: “Tear your hearts and not your garments.”  Our hearts are broken when we mourn over our sin–when the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and we look at our lives and acknowledge, “There are actions and words and attitudes here that aren’t what God wants.  I’ve let God down, and I’m heartbroken about it.”  And with broken hearts we confess our sins to God.

And then...then He gives us a new and clean heart.  Create in me a clean heart, O God,” we cry in Psalm 51–and He does!  “I will give you a new heart,” He promises (Ezekiel 36:26). 

What makes this new and clean heart possible is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  He shed His blood so that our hearts can be washed clean; his body was broken so that our broken hearts can be healed.  “How can you mend a broken heart?” asked the BeeGees in a hit song from 30 years ago.  The answer to that question is: through the cross.

A classic symbol of Valentine’s Day is a heart with an arrow in it.  The arrow is fired, of course, by Cupid (a Greek god); whenever Cupid’s arrows hit someone, they fall in love.  But this symbol can communicate a wondrous message to Christians: the true God (not the mythical Cupid, but Jesus Christ) was pierced on the cross–not with an arrow, but with a spear–and He poured out His life’s blood for our sake.  And He did his because He loves us with a love that is even greater than the love that we celebrate on Valentine’s Day.  The arrow-pierced heart reminds us of romantic love; but the Lord pierced on the cross shows us the most wondrous love of all.

So, on Ash Wednesday, we bring our broken hearts to the broken, crucified Christ...and He heals them with His love.

George Herbert, the great British poet and clergyman, used the image of the broken heart in a beautiful, punning wordplay.  He imagined that the name of “Jesus” (written, in the old-fashioned way, as IESU) was

written on his heart:

Then his heart was broken into pieces.

But as he looked at the broken pieces of his heart, he noticed that they now said: I ES U.  In other words: “I ease you.”  Jesus was there to ease his pain, and to comfort his broken heart.

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day with candy hearts, may our minds drift forward to Ash Wednesday–when we acknowledge that our hearts are sinful, when our hearts break with mourning over sin...and when the crucified Jesus comforts us and renews us with His holy love. 
God loves you and so do I!