Gospel: Luke 24:13-35 Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1st Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41 2nd Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
The heart is a wondrous and mysterious organ. I bring it up because it is mentioned in all three readings this morning. Plus the fact that on Wednesday morning I got to see my fetus’ heart beating on the ultrasound. We could see all four heart ventricles and see them beating. The heartbeat was 130 beats per minute, which is in the normal range although it could be higher. I just take it as evidence that I will have a calm child. I would have been fascinated to see that kind of image on any kind of creature, but multiply that curiosity by ten because this creature is inside me with half my DNA and someone I’m going to be caring for in a few months.
When I was a chaplain in the hospital I had the most amazing opportunity to witness a bypass surgery. I’ve never seen anything so amazing in all my life. I don’t want to gross you all out, but to see them when they were ready, put the heart back in the chest cavity, and to watch it start beating again—it was truly a miracle. The life-saving surgery, itself, was a miracle. The fact that that tissue beat as a heart was a miracle. The way the blood carries oxygen to the cells and the carbon dioxide and other poisons away from them—I just can’t get over the miracle of the heart.
There is a lot more to the heart than just blood being pumped all over the body. When we get upset, our hearts race. When we are in love, our hearts leap—literally, I have felt it myself. We associate hearts with love, maybe because of that tight feeling in the chest that we feel. Our hearts send our bodies messages with different chemicals. Our hearts tell us things our minds can’t.
The first reading this morning talks about a crowd being cut to the heart. Something that Peter has said has touched them very deeply. It wasn’t a soft, comfortable feeling like a pat on the back. It was a jolt. It might have been a little painful. They were cut, not to the skin, not to the bone, but to the heart. Peter is telling them that Jesus is the Messiah. And they recognize some truth in what he’s saying. It isn’t easy information to take in. If Jesus is really is the Messiah, their lives are going to change. They thought they’d be following a strong Messiah and take up arms to fight the powers of oppression with him. They thought he would ascend the throne and tell them all exactly what to do. They thought when the Messiah came, they would be rich and well-fed and their enemies would be their slaves. But this isn’t the Messiah they got.
Instead of all the things they expected to be doing, they have to repent, turn around, change direction. Their minds have to change direction. Their hearts have to change direction. They have to be washed clean in baptism. They have to die with Christ. They have to be vulnerable to the powers like Christ. They have to give of themselves like Christ. What else could they do? Their hearts are being cut with a knife. They see clearly. Their hearts perceive the truth of Jesus’ way, of Jesus’ teaching. Now that they have heard Peter’s testimony, they can’t go back. Their hearts are going forward. The heart only pumps in one direction. Sometimes the heart doesn’t get all the blood pumping the right way and it gets stuck in a ventricle in a circular pattern and causes the heart to become enlarged. When the heart pumps the blood forward, the enriched blood goes out and nourishes the body. And the blood on its return picks up all the nasty stuff that needs to be removed. It is only forward with the blood and the heart and it is only forward with God’s people and God’s plan.
The second lesson talks both about the blood and the heart. It says we were ransomed by the precious blood of Christ. The blood in the Jewish faith, is the life. They understood without blood you can’t have life. That’s why they are so careful with blood. When they butcher an animal, they are careful to spill the blood in a certain way to cause the animal little to no suffering. Where blood is spilled, special handling instructions are found in the Old Testament. If you have someone with a hemorrhage, that person must be isolated. Women had to be purified after childbirth or menstruation. It was all considered very powerful and potentially dangerous. So now we’ve got this powerful blood of Jesus coming to our aid. And in Holy Communion we also drink that blood. It seems for one thing, the Christians wanted to differentiate themselves from Judaism. The early Christians said, “We’re not Jewish.” They asked some people to choose one religion or the other and this blood imagery and communion was one way to do that. They co-opted a symbol of danger and power to be avoided and turned it around to one with saving powers that you should come into contact with. It was Jesus being willing to pour out that blood, to die, that showed us how to die and rise to new life. And maybe some of this blood imagery was because early disciples of Christ did die in horrific ways for their faith. And this was another way to reassure them.
The second reference in the second lesson says, “Love one another deeply from the heart.” This has nothing to do with blood. This isn’t about our physical bodies. This is a love that cuts deeply. It isn’t just actions. It isn’t just feelings. It isn’t just going through the motions. It is forgiveness. It is sacrificial love. It is a deep connection of community. It isn’t based on what you can do for me. It is the kind of love that Christ has for us. And when you think of that kind of love, it makes it hard to keep hating your enemies.
This whole debate about how we should feel about Osama bin Laden’s death and whether we should celebrate or mourn more violence in our world. We are probably never going to love OBL as he’s now being called, and certainly not deeply from the heart. But can we acknowledge that God knew him when he was smaller than my fetus? Can we acknowledge that his mother and wife and children loved him? Can we picture him in God’s arms? Can we picture Jesus’ arms outstretched for him? I don’t know if there was any part of that man worth redeeming. But if there was then surely Jesus came even to redeem him. Maybe part of us is secretly or not so secretly celebrating, or relieved. And maybe there is part of us that is from God that is sad that it has to come to bloodshed and violence and wonders what further violence this could generate. Let’s pray for the soul of OBL and for his family and friends and for love instead of hatred in our world. That’s what it means to pray for your enemies.
And now to the gospel reading. The disciples on the road to Emmaus—their hearts are slow to believe. Hearts can believe! Hearts can hope. You can ponder things in your heart, like Mary did. Later these two realize their hearts had been burning while Jesus was talking to them. It wasn’t heartburn. It was that feeling when your heart knows something and you don’t. Your heart is trying to tell you something. “Pay attention!” Maybe it is part of what we call intuition.
By the time I am fully pregnant, my blood flow will have increased 50%. It might make me dizzy. I need to drink more water. I need to eat right and take more iron and vitamins. As that part of me increases, I can’t help but think about the growth that can’t be measured on the sonogram or by standing on a scale. How will that intuition part of me grow and how will I grow toward motherhood? It is a work of the heart that is apparently never finished as many of you have been showing me.
Our faith is never just a matter of the eyes because we believe what we haven’t seen. It isn’t just a matter of the brain, getting our mind around God’s love for us—it just can’t be done. It is a matter of the heart: God reaching our hearts with a word, a promise, a loving act. It is a matter of God challenging us and cutting to our hearts, softening our hearts in love toward one another, and filling our hearts until they are overflowing and until we love the world with the heart of God.