Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Joel 2: 12-13
Today we are one month shy of the one year anniversary of the first COVID shutdown in the state of New York. For many it seems like a year of Lent, fasting from gathering, mourning those who have died, and weeping for changes in our daily lives which shall continue.
In such a time of grief, the custom in the era of the prophet Joel was to rend or tear one’s clothing apart to acknowledge the deep feeling of brokenness. The passage we read today on Ash Wednesday encourages us instead to rend our hearts. Looking around at the dramatic decline in our national health, the deeper awareness of the inequity and pain of long-operating racist systems, and the violent challenges to our democracy our hearts do break, but do they break open?
On this day and during this season of Lent, let us rend the hard shells of our hearts and break open all that keeps us from loving God and one another, all that stops up our ears from listening for God, and all that blinds us when looking for God.
God longs for us to return to Godself with all our heart. This is the appeal spoken by God though Joel. What matters most in our lives is our relationship with God. This relationship is primary over community status, a need for self-affirmation, and even over daily care for our family. We are called to full and large hearts with room enough for all God’s creation. We are called to go well beyond giving up a bad habit, or chocolate, or beer.
This year, let us break our hearts wide open and offer them to God.
May we offer to God all our our brokenness, all the actions and thoughts counter to God’s dream for us and all creation. May we offer our fear that causes us to lash out at the “other,” to focus on our selfish desires, and to cause harm. We can offer up these sins or clutter or shell around our hearts deeply trusting in God’s graciousness and mercy. As we repent, or turn from our narrow self-interest, to remember our neighbor is ourself, we draw closer to God. In God alone do we find safety to break open our hearts.
Each day in Lent may we awaken in the embrace of God’s love and go forth listening for God in others and in our life situation, and looking for God in the eyes of our enemies as much as in the eyes of family and close friends.
Let us rend our hearts that we may listen, look, and love God and one another with our whole hearts.