Sunday, May 08, 2011

3rd Sunday of Easter
Welding A Broken Heart
Picture: cc TechShop

And how can you mend a broken heart?
How can you stop the rain from falling down?
How can you stop the sun from shining?
What makes the world go round?
How can you mend this broken man?
How can a loser ever win?
Please help me mend my broken heart
And let me live again.
Sisters and brothers, I think at least some of us here have heard these words before. They’re taken from the song that was written and popularized by the Bee Gees in the 1970s. And those of us who have ever had our hearts broken, or those of us who have ever been disappointed in any way, will know very well the emotions expressed here. We know the pain and confusion that causes a person to ask the question: How can you mend a broken heart? How can you gather and reconnect all the shattered pieces? Is it even possible?
Now we know, of course, that it is possible to reconnect broken pieces of metal. The process is called welding. It involves two steps. First, you apply heat to the metal pieces, such that the edges you wish to join begin to melt. Then, you apply a bonding agent, which also melts and mixes with the molten metal. And once the mixture cools down and solidifies, it forms a very strong bond. The two pieces have become welded into one. Through a process of melting and bonding, what was broken is now mended. 
And, quite surprisingly, what works with metals also works with human hearts. This is what we find in our Mass readings today. Consider what we find in the gospel. In the beginning,  we have two disciples who are walking not just with heavy feet, but also with broken hearts. They had placed very high hopes in Jesus. We were hoping, they say, that he would be the one to redeem Israel. But their hopes were dashed when the Lord was crucified as a common criminal. Their hearts were shattered when his body was broken on the wood of the Cross. So that, at the beginning of the gospel, we find them walking away from Jerusalem. They are leaving the place of their heartbreak. 
But the Risen Christ walks with them and proceeds to mend their broken hearts. And it’s important for us to pay close attention to how he does this. Like the welding of metals, the mending of hearts also involves two steps. First, we’re told that Jesus interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures. For the broken-hearted, the Risen Christ breaks open the Word of the Scriptures. And, by doing this, he shows them a truth that they have not yet understood. He shows them that it was necessary that the Christ should suffer. It was necessary that he should suffer! The realization of this truth has a very striking effect on the disciples. As they say to each other later, were not our hearts burning within us while he... opened the Scriptures to us? Like pieces of metal being welded together, when exposed to the heat of the broken Word, the hearts of the disciples begin to burn and to melt. 
But that’s not all. Having melted their hearts, the Risen Christ proceeds to the next step. As with the first step, this second one also involves a breaking. As he did at the Last Supper, Jesus again joins the disciples for a meal. Except that this time it is the disciples who invite him. Then, having accepted their invitation and gathered with them around the table, Jesus presides over the meal. To the hearts that he had first melted by a breaking of the Word, the Risen Christ now adds a bonding agent. He breaks Bread. As a result, the disciples finally recognize him. And, in recognizing him, they realize a second truth. They finally understand that, not only was it necessary that the Christ should suffer, but it was just as necessary that he should be raised. As Peter declares to the crowd in the first reading, God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it.
What the disciples begin to understand is that Jesus did not die in vain. Which also means that their sufferings too are not without meaning. In the words of the second reading, what the disciples come to realize is that the broken body of the Crucified Christ is also the Resurrected Body of the spotless and unblemished lamb of God. And this realization is so powerful that it binds together all the pieces of their broken hearts. We know their hearts are mended now because, once the Risen Christ has vanished and their experience of him begins to cool and to solidify, the disciples rush back to the very place they from which they were earlier trying to escape. They journey back to Jerusalem. Broken hearts walk away from life. Mended hearts plunge into it more deeply.
This then, sisters and brothers, is the effect of the Emmaus experience. It mends broken hearts. And it should be clear to us by now that what is said about the road to Emmaus applies also to what we experience here in the Eucharist. Often, like the disciples in the gospel, we come to Mass with hearts that are broken by our experiences. We bring with us our struggles and our disappointments–the things that make us wish we could escape from life. And the Crucified and Risen One mends our hearts by interpreting the Scriptures and breaking the Bread for us. He reminds us not only that it is necessary that the Christ should suffer, but also that it is just as necessary that he be raised. Not only does the Lord give us the energy to run back to Jerusalem, he also empowers us to do what we find Peter doing in the first reading. Like his Master on the road to Emmaus, Peter breaks open the Word of Scripture and begins to mend the hearts of a broken world.
If all this is indeed true. If our experience of the Eucharist is also an Emmaus experience. If, in our Mass this morning, our Risen Lord is truly melting, mending and moving our hearts. Then, sisters and brothers, when we leave this holy place, perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is this:

How can we mend a broken heart today? 

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