Lent 5B – March 25, 2012
Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33
Blessed are the Cracked
The wound is the place where the Light enters you. + Rumi
My mother tells the story of the time when she was seven years old and she broke her left wrist. When it came time to remove the cast, it was found that her wrist had fused in this position: with her palm lifted ninety degrees to her forearm. The doctor came up with the following solution: Her seven year old wrist would have to be re-broken, so that it could be set again. The doctor asked my grandfather, a coal miner whose hands continue to be the largest I have ever seen, to hold tightly to my mom’s/his daughter’s bicep while the doctor whacked the back of her hand with a rubber mallet! Honest-to-God! My Nanny and Poppy corroborated her story while they were still with us! Poppy assumed the position, grabbed my mom’s little seven year old bicep and, as the doctor made his backswing, Poppy promptly passed out and dropped like the proverbial sack of potatoes…Nanny, all five foot one of her, stepped over my grandfather, grabbed onto her daughter’s arm and the doctor swung. Mom’s wrist has never given her a problem—indeed she has knit and crocheted her entire life.
Fast forward fifty years and we find Missy and Me at University Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. My young, very pregnant, and very sick wife is being attended to by an equally young and clearly nervous doctor who is attempting to start an IV line in the back of Missy’s hand. In good family tradition, I fainted dead away! Three hours later, with me on one side of his isolette and a priest on the opposite, our skinny little premature son was baptized into the Body of Christ.
Another twenty years later and I was sitting at the bedside of my sister on the evening of her death. My niece, Sara—Joyce’s daughter-in-law—and I bypassed dinner to sit with our beloved as her health rapidly deteriorated. It was then that I was given insight into her repeated statements of “Hurry, hurry,” and, “I’ve got to go!” Over and over that day, we had heard Joyce make these two statements without our understanding. Finally, in the stillness of her bedroom, in the fading light of that late November evening, I asked Joyce, “Honey, who has to hurry?” She simply said, “God. I have to go!” “Oh Honey,” I said, “God is right here. He has always been here, ready for you. Just go. God is waiting for you.”
The people of Israel to whom Jeremiah and God are speaking know something about terrible, painful and pain-filled days. They know the darkness of fear and sadness. They have seen their leaders ripped from their homes and taken forcibly into exile. Their families have been torn apart by the Babylonians who know that to divide is to conquer. They have heard from their prophet Jeremiah that the reason for their current situation can be placed on the fact that, time and again over history humanity has broken its covenant with God—we have turned away from God and bad things, devastatingly real destructive things have happened. These people, too, know something—everything—about sorrow, death, sin—brokenness.
But this section of Jeremiah isn’t about the people. Not the people of the house of Israel, the house of Judah, or us, or anyone who has come between or before, or who will come after. This story of new covenant is about God. It is all about a God—our God—who is so in love with humanity; so crazy head-over-heels-in-love with us that nothing will stop God from finding a way to bring us back into a loving relationship!! There can be no better news than that which Jeremiah has given us today.
This is that Good News: God wants so desperately to be in loving relationship with us that he has a new covenant for us—an internal covenant that not even we can break! It’s not an external covenant written on stone tablets that can be broken; dashed upon the rocks. Nor is it written, even, on the sky. This covenant is an internal covenant, for it is written on our hearts. It is written, God says, on our leb—that inmost part of our very being. And here’s the kicker! Why is it written on our hearts? Why has it been written in the inmost depths of our souls? That place from which our very identity comes?
So. That. We. Will. Know. God.
So. That. We. Shall. All. Know. God.
So that we—from the least of us to the greatest—shall know God. My friends, that is why we have been created in the first place—for loving relationship with God. And it is in the dark times, the difficult, unbearable days of our lives when the light of that relationship shines brightest. God gets it, my friends. God understands that life isn’t always a bowl of cherries; it isn’t always easy—maybe, it’s never easy. But that’s okay, because God understands pain and sorrow and difficulty and death and sin and brokenness, and loves us anyway! God loves us. No. Matter. What. I knew it the day that I thought I might lose both my wife and our son. He was the smallest thing I had ever seen, and I knew in my heart that he would make it. I knew it, and so did Sara, when we saw peace on my sister’s face. And I know that you, too, have known the love of God.
Walter Brueggemann, the pre-eminent Old Testament scholar of our day, when preaching on this text from Jeremiah said that “God, in Christ, on the cross, in the Gospel, experienced the brokenness that must happen in order that we can have a new change.” God fully knows us, in other words. God, in Christ—broken and beaten, persecuted, reviled, spit upon and ignored—having experienced the brokenness of humanity, know us more fully than we know ourselves and loves us even more. This love God has for us—this ‘new covenant’—is God’s identity and ours.
The “About Jim” section of my facebook profile has always been this quote: Blessed are the ones who are cracked, for they are the ones who let the light shine out! On some deep level, I have understood what God’s new covenant is about. This Thursday I saw these words reframed by Rumi: The wound is the place where the Light enters you. These words hit me right in the leb, and I realized a deeper truth: being cracked does indeed allow us to share the Light of Christ, but it is through the wound itself that the Light and love of God is made ours in the first place! As Augustine of Hippo wrote: Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee. (Confessions 1.1.1)
My friends, know this all the days of your lives: God’s law of steadfast love is written on your heart so that, “They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive them their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” Amen.