How Much Can One Heart Hold?
Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
I’m so glad to be here again at last, dear friends of St. Michael’s and All Angels Church. Praise God for the technology that allows those at home to gather in worship with us, and it’s wonderful to see in the flesh those physically present in the sanctuary. What can we say to one another, when so much has happened to change nearly everything about our lives and our world in the last two years?
The first questions we typically ask one another are the most fundamental: How are you? What’s life been like for you? How is your family, both near and far?
On Friday someone asked me how I was doing–and this person truly wanted to know. I wasn’t sure how to answer or where to begin. I notice the same thing when I speak to my 90-year old mother nearly each day. Each time she pauses, in part, to decide how much to reveal, before typically saying, “I’m all right.” There’s so much more that she could say.
My predicatble answer when someone asks how I’m doing is “I’m fine,” and on so many levels, it’s true. In fact, I’m more than fine. I am blessed, because I live here and not in a war zone; I’m fine, because while I contracted COVID, mine was a very mild case and all in my family have also had mild cases; I’m fine, that I still have a job and roof over my head and food to eat. Compared to many, many people in the world right now, for whom God must surely be weeping, I am fine. Yet saying that I’m fine, or blessed, or doing well skims the surface of what life is like.
I wonder if the same is true for you.
Because so many of us are stretched thin–doing all we can for as many people as we can–there is a collective sense of weariness. We’re holding things together as best we can, but it’s a lot to hold.
Grief also hangs in the air, even in our happy moments, even if we have been largely spared, because there is so much pain everywhere. Wherever we turn, someone is suffering. We may be that someone, or we are witnesses to another’s pain. And we hold that too.
To be sure, good things have happened to us in the last two years. We may have stories to tell of adventure, new learning, and surprising resilience. Examples of incredible generosity, sacrificial love, and courage inspire us each day. Blessings abound, even in the messy places. God’s grace is real.
All these things–the good, the hard; the blessing, the gratitude; the adventure, the grief–we hold it all in our own heart. But how much can one heart hold? When was the last time you stopped long enough to consider your heart and all that it’s holding?
We’ve just heard a brief passage from the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus takes a break on his long walk, near the end of his life, from his home of Nazareth to Jerusalem, the center of religious power and authority for his people and of the occupying force of the Roman Empire. Those of us familiar with Jesus’ story know what’s waiting for him in Jerusalem. He’s headed toward the cross. He knew it, too, that his time had come, and so as the Scripture says, “He set his face toward Jerusalem” and started walking.
It takes ten chapters of the Gospel of Luke to describe all that happens on that Jerusalem road. If you were to sit down and read those ten chapters in one sitting, you’d be amazed. Jesus is really busy–teaching, healing, equipping his small band of disciples for what’s to come. In fact, there’s so much going on, it’s hard to remember that Jesus is walking toward all that awaits him in the last week of his life.
But then, when at last he sees Jerusalem in the distance, Jesus stops and rests. As he’s sitting there, some of the Pharisees, the religious group always at odds with Jesus, approach to warn him. “Go no further,” they tell him, “for Herod wants to kill you. Turn around, Jesus. Go back to Nazareth.” Jesus replies, “Go and tell that fox that I am coming.”
Then something happens that gives us a glimpse into what Jesus has been holding in his heart: He cries out in raw grief, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
This was Jesus’ lament, for the city and for himself. It didn’t surprise, or even seem to bother him very much that religious and political authorities were hostile to him. But imagine the pain of rejection and indifference from those he had hoped to heal and to save.
Jesus’ heart aches to the breaking point. What’s striking, and instructive, is that he allowed himself to feel it, to acknowledge the pain in his heart. He stopped long enough to let his emotions rise to the surface, and to cry out and let his tears flow. Then, when his tears are spent, Jesus gets up and keeps going. He knows what will happen if he continues to Jerusalem, but he goes anyway. He knows that while Herod would be the one ultimately to sentence him to death, the people he loves will also play a part in his demise. But he loves them anyway.
There’s a song by the acapella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, that tells the story of a strong Black woman, the spiritual center of her family, the one everyone else goes to for strength. She’s the one who washes floors to send her kids to college, who always makes sure that there’s food on the table, and who stays up late listening to her children’s hurt and rage. Everyone turns to her.
The father, the children, the brothers turn to her. And everybody white turns to her.
But where does she turn? Sweet Honey sings:
There oughta be a woman can break down, sit down, break down, sit down.1
Hold that image of a strong black woman breaking down, crying her eyes out, alone. Then when the tears are done, watch her as she takes a breath, gets up and carries on.
She was like Jesus in his lament, and like him in her rising to carry on.
What I hope for each one of you, and for myself, is the grace and permission to allow ourselves to stop every once in a while and acknowledge all we’re holding in our hearts. It’s okay to collapse in exhaustion or grief every now and then. It’s okay to cry. Or to laugh, in those moments of happiness or joy. It’s more than okay.
We can create spaces for one another here in Christian community for that kind of safe release. We can sit in silence by ourselves and allow the mercy of Jesus to wash over us.Then when our tears are spent, our weariness acknowledged, our emotions held in the almighty hands of love, by that same mercy and grace, we will rise again and keep going. We can’t make this journey on our own, but thankfully, we don’t have to. We walk with Jesus, and we walk with one another.
1There Oughta be a Woman by Bernice Sanders.