Break our hearts for what breaks yours…
—Rev Kate Harrison, 29 January 2017
Matthew 5. 1–12.
This morning’s Gospel marks a turning point in our understanding of the Christ Child’s story. Up until now we have seen a series of hints…the shepherds, first to hear about the birth, who hint that status, or lack of it, is no barrier to God’s invitation to find Him and love Him. The wise men bringing strange, unexpected and impossible gifts which hint at the extraordinary nature of this child in such a humble setting. The fear of Herod, hinting that the powerful abusive order will be overthrown… . A series of hints which are drawn together in today’s reading to show us the fullness of the promise we are given in this tiny baby boy.
So, in a story which continues the birth narrative, showing the Holy Family keeping the expected and required rituals of God-fearing Jews, we get a clear image of the cross. We are in the in-between space where the only way we can go is forwards. We cannot stay in this part of the story where Jesus is a child. Remarkable as his infant days are, they are not the full story.
And what a story Simeon describes. He has waited patiently for the Messiah. And then, when he finally sees him and holds him in his arms, does he talk of the glory that will come to God and God’s people through Him? Well, yes, he does. But that’s not where he ends. Simeon has much more to say. Not only is the child the saviour of God’s chosen people, he is to bring God’s light to the gentiles too. The wise men, the outsiders we recognised at the Epiphany, were right. This King was to be significant for the whole of creation, not just a chosen few. In this tiny, fragile frame, Simeon saw an amazing future. He saw a future where light would be shed on all things and where God’s Kingdom would come to fruition. And he saw a future hinted at by that surprising gift of Myrrh: the gift that tells of death. But what he saw was not just the death of Christ. Indeed, he never actually says anything about Jesus’ death and suffering. Yes, he says that Jesus will be opposed and that, in opposing him, people will be revealed as opposing God’s plan; but he never says that Jesus will be brought to death. He holds this child in sure and certain faith that he will bring salvation, but he shows no indication that he knows how this will be accomplished. Without knowing the end of the story, he is content to say that he trusts the promise he sees before him. He doesn’t need to see the end or even understand the end, to know that it will come.
What he does say, is that Mary’s soul will be pierced.
I wonder if these words ran through Mary’s mind as she witnessed the death of her son. Now, it won’t come as a surprise to many of you to hear that I am a fan of Mary. I see the faith that this woman had. I see the strength that she had. I see the love that she had, and I can’t help but be inspired. This woman was herself a warrior for God. And part of her fight for the salvation of the world was to feel her heart break as her child died in agony.
At the presentation of Christ at the temple, two birds were given as a sacrifice. At the presentation of God’s saving grace and love to the world, Mary’s son was given as a sacrifice. Mary made her own sacrifice as her heart broke.
We know that Jesus through his death and resurrection overcame evil and sin. We know that the battle has ultimately been won so, as Christians, we have Simeon’s trust. But we see a broken world. We see a world wracked with pain. And through the cross, we see a promise of redemption and healing: hand in hand with the truth that full healing and wholeness will only come through sacrifice; not just that of Jesus, the one saviour; not just that of Mary, the first evangelist; but of all those who have a part to play in God’s salvation history. Yes. That means me. And, yes, that means you.
Being a follower of Christ puts us directly in the line of sacrifice. Most of us won’t (I hope) have to sacrifice our lives in the way of the Saints; but we are called to give of ourselves in service to this world. To sacrifice our own interests in favour of the Kingdom, in favour of those God loves. That sword will pierce our soul too. We will see things which break our hearts and we must act on those—allowing our hearts to break for the things that break God’s heart.
After reading the report on sexuality from the House of Bishops on Friday I know what is making my heart break today. After listening to the pain of LGBTI Christian friends, I know what today is breaking their hearts. And I’m as sure as I can be that that pain is breaking God’s heart too. So I must act on that. I will speak out. And with the faith of Simeon I must trust, and for whatever breaks your heart I ask you to trust too, that it is all in Christ’s hands.