Thursday, March 25, 2010

Heart of stone, heart of flesh

Signs of hard heartedness, stones in a tub
One of the songs we frequently sing at our Family Service was written by Eric Law. It goes, "A new heart I'll give to you, a new spirit I will put within you; And I'll take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Having placed the stones on chests as we make our confession of sin, it can be a helpful way of considering how we've become hard-hearted, rigid, frigid, unopened to God's love and grace.

During Lent at every service with the Penitential Order we have had the whole congregation hold stones to their hearts as we've considered the Decalogue. Then we process to the rear of the Nave to symbolically rid ourselves of our hard-heartedness and sinful ways, then to turn back to Christ for the words of Absolution. The crash of those stones as they are tossed into the galvanized tub initially made a hideous, clanking sound. As the stones have accumulated the sound is dull, but nevertheless unnerving. During the ensuing week, folks take a stone home with them to help them through the week to recollect other areas which are in need of change.

As a "gift" to the Electing Convention last week, we gave all the delegates, alternates and clergy a stone to assist them in prayerfully offering up any area where hurts, betrayals, frustrations, aggravations with any previous bishop might hinder their openness to the Holy Spirit's guidance. For some it meant dealing honestly with our own hard-heartedness; for harboring grudges; for lack of support for those in positions of authority. The tub grew noticeably fuller before the opening Eucharist began.

On Good Friday we will have one last opportunity to prepare our hearts for new life, Easter life, when we place additional stones in the tub. Following each of the Solemn Collects we will have a very short meditation dealing with how we have inflicted hurt or been hurt by the subject of that Collect. For example in praying for the Church, we consider how the church, its ministers and members have let us down and then how we, too, have let the Church down by our failings in keeping the vows we made (Baptismal, Marriage, Ordination). We will place our representative stones in the tub placed at the foot of the cross.

By Easter the stones will have been well washed (with the waters of Baptism?) and will be displayed in a very large, glass container (like an aquarium) as a reminder of the new life we can embrace through Christ's passion, crucifixion and resurrection.

In my preparation then for Holy Week, I am thinking it is like the time when a potential transplant patient is hoping she will live long enough for the pager to go off, summoning her to the hospital for the surgery. And then because we know the rest of the story, we know that someone has died, that the needed heart has been made available and that Christ's life awaits us.