Have you ever heard the sound of a heart breaking? Do you recognize and remember — and know — what that sounds like?
Maybe it was your own? Or someone close enough to you whose heart you could not miss hearing? Or someone you did not know, just happened to see, but could not miss the sound or the sight and the sorrow.
I thought of this — and how many broken hearts there can be in church each week — when I was looking at commentaries for this Sunday’s Gospel, Mark 8: 27-38. In church on September 16, we will listen to the Gospel together, and maybe we will hear why the commentator believes we should be able to hear Peter’s heart breaking after he identified Jesus as the Messiah.
But we probably already have enough heartbreaks of our own.
Maybe it was some relationship, dear to you, that didn’t work out like you hoped, or it didn’t work out at all.
Maybe it was your best friend’s heart breaking when the doctor called to say the cancer was back.
Or it was your children whose hearts were broken when they graduated from high school or college only to find there were no jobs for them.
Or it was a colleague’s heart breaking when his work life and career ended badly, and he didn’t know how to survive on what was left.
Maybe it was someone learning slowly over the years she would never have the family she had hoped for.
Sometimes no one but God knows your heartbreak.
Have you ever heard the sound of a heart breaking? Do you remember what it sounds like? It might be hard to detect at first, but if you listen closely, you can actually hear a human heart first tremble under the stress of a fearful future and then fracture in hopelessness.
My heart has been broken a few times in my life. There are probably multiple reasons I might be thinking about that now or at any time. But particularly this week, perhaps, because 9/11 was one of those times.
Watching the towers fall from my office window. Hearing the reports of the hell that downtown had become. Worrying how many were dead. And over the next days, learning the identities of people I knew who died. And of people in our UCC congregations who had died. It was heart breaking.
There are a lot of broken hearts in our world.
I suspect my parents suffered broken hearts in their lives repeatedly while I was growing up. But children, perhaps thankfully, do not easily see their parents’ realities (even if they cannot help but notice their struggles and suffering). Therefore, I believe, my first conscious sense of broken hearts, was when right after high school two friends’ fathers, in short succession, committed suicide. At that time, I remembered this quote from Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” (that I recently had read):
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.”
I also remember Bill Coffin’s insight when someone told him after his son died as a young adult in a self-inflicted alcohol-related car accident “God needed your son.” I talked about this in a sermon a couple of weeks ago. Coffin, who was known for his temper, chased the retreating woman into the kitchen, ranting, “Madame, God doesn’t kill young people because they are needed in heaven. My son died — I owe him this much respect — because he drank too much and tried to drive home on a snowy road next to the bay, and the car slipped off the road and into the icy water. And God was the first to cry.”
Or to paraphrase Coffin for today’s E-pistle. “God’s heart is always the first to break.” I find that incarnational. And helpful.
One day after 9/11, Barbara Lundblad, the preaching professor at Union Seminary, tearfully gave a sermon there at James Chapel:
“‘Gather up the fragments,’ Jesus said, ‘so that nothing may be lost.’
We have been trying to do that since yesterday. Trying to find meaning where there is none. Trying to fit together what is forever broken. Trying to see the skyline as we remember seeing it. Trying to gather up… the fragments.
….I have not been able to gather up the fragments into any meaningful whole. But it was this very word ‘fragments’ that led me back to John’s Gospel and that story you just heard read.
‘And from the fragments of the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten, the disciples filled up 12 baskets. It wasn’t until I read the passage over these last hours that I realized they must have eaten all the fish, because there wasn’t any of that left. John doesn’t tell us what the disciples did with all those baskets full of bread. But, today, I believe with all my heart that they are still being passed out to us, after all the centuries.
I wish with all my heart I could give us something more than fragments, but I have also been assured that fragments are something rather than nothing.”
Even if no one knows your heartache, God does. So bring it with you to church. Don’t try and hide it from God. God knows, really knows what it feels and sounds and looks like. And God is waiting to sit with you as long as it takes.
If Hemingway is correct, the broken places never really heal, but they get stronger. And if Lundblad is right about grace, there are still baskets of bread and the fragments we are left with are something.
That’s all God too, I think. God there with you where you are most hurting and vulnerable… somehow that gives you a strength that is mercy and compassion and also something to go forward with, albeit partial, to hold on to, carry forward and share. .
You are not the only one in church with a heart that’s been broken. In the silence, if you listen closely, you just might hear the echoes of brokenness. But if you look closely, you will also see God’s response, a loving presence that gathers and preserves …
See you in church,