I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36: 26)
Many of us look at ourselves and feel that our hearts have grown cold: we do not see ourselves as kind or compassionate and sometimes we feel that we are less loving than we once were. Quite often we feel that although we have been committed to our Church over long years our faith has grown dull. We may know much more than we did but we do not feel that love has grown alongside the knowledge. God is there but distant and we have grown cold.
Life hurts and the wounds multiply as the years pass. We look out at a world in pain and we feel helpless. We look at ourselves sometimes and feel pretty helpless, too – as the collect says, Oh, Lord, you know that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves.
I have on the prayer desk in my office a large stone heart. It is heavy and cold. It symbolises my heart of stone which I wish to become a heart of flesh. But how is it to become this? The first thing I have to do is to take it into my hands. As I hold it in my warm hands of flesh the stone becomes warm. Our hearts have to be held by the Incarnate Christ. At this special time of Passiontide we need again to approach not some vague, abstract God ‘out there’ but the man, Jesus, who became flesh for us to be with us; the one God sent, because he loved the world so much. This human being who goes for us, touches us as no other can do.
In our gospel for Passion Sunday we read of the Greeks who came to the disciple, Philip, because they wanted to see Jesus. We are reminded of the first chapter of John’s gospel where the two disciples of John the Baptist, one of whom is Andrew, follow Jesus. He asks,
What are you looking for?
They answer, Rabbi, where are you staying?
And he answers them, Come and see.
In our deepest selves most of us who call ourselves Christian long to see Jesus; not through an intermediary, not second-hand, but for ourselves. We long to see Jesus. We know that if we see him for ourselves our hearts will burn within us as did the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We know we will feel his love and that our love will be enflamed in response. But wonderful as this experience might be we need to be alert to what we are actually asking for. Are we asking to love God through Jesus simply for what we get out of it? If we want our hearts of stone to be turned into hearts of flesh, we have to realise that along with that comes exposure to pain, shame, humiliation, rejection and deep, deep sorrow. As John 12: 26 says, Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Our hearts became stone for self-protection. Now in this Passiontide we are reminded of what it costs to receive a new heart. Jesus asked his disciples if they were willing to drink the cup he drank, and they, not understanding, said they were willing. Are we?
Every morning at Launde Abbey we, like so many Christians, intercede for the world in all its suffering and for individuals who are sick in body, mind or spirit or bereaved. Sometimes it all seems so dreary and repetitive, so hopeless. As we pray we are reminded of suffering we would sooner turn from – other peoples’ pain and grief, and so often, our own selfish response. It is not at all a comfortable place to be but the call is to remain in that sort of prayer, however, hopeless it sometimes feels.
What was it like for Jesus on the cross, to hang there shamed and humiliated, scoffed at and in terrible agony for a world that did not seem to want, let alone understand what he had tried to give them? Can we see him there? Can we stay with him throughout the next 12 days? Can we look with the eyes of our heart and mind at Jesus, flesh of our flesh, and see his loving response to all who come in need and his commitment to his friends, to the very end. Held by another our hearts are warmed, flesh holding flesh. Held by Jesus, our God made flesh for our sakes, we are warmed more deeply than any other human being can warm us. If we are willing to suffer the cost of opening our hearts to the way God loves, our hearts will become hearts of flesh instead of the hearts of stone.