There is a great movie called "Return to Me" that some of you may have seen. It starred David Duchovny and Minnie Driver. It also was one of the last performances by Carroll O' Connor who played a man who ran an Italian restaurant. Minnie Driver played his daughter who happened to have a heart problem that required a heart transplant. If she did nto receive a new heart, then she would die. She was growing weaker by the day and O' Connor would go to mass and pray for her. David Duchovny played a man who worked at a zoo and at the movie's start, his wife was killed in a traffic accident as they were going to or returning from (I can't remember which) a festive occasion. As fate would have it (or Hollywood would write it), the wife had signed up to be an organ donor and her heart was given to the Italian restaurant owner's daughter who was in need of a heart. The man whose wife died mourned for a long time but finally decided to risk going out again and met the woman in the restaurant who had been given his wife's heart (unbeknowst to him) and, of course, they fell in love and wanted to get married. She somehow learned that she had the heart of his dead wife beating in her chest and almost called the off the wedding but the pair worked through it and they lived happily ever after. Ahhhh, what a great movie.
It is becoming more common to actually know people who have received an organ from an organ donor. My brother is a kidney transplant patient, having received a kidney from a donor several years back. I also have a church member who received a heart a couple years ago because he had been plaugued with heart trouble for so long and they finally determined that only a heart transplant would save his life. The new heart has given him much more energy and has made his quality of life much greater.
The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures for next Sunday is from Jeremiah 31 where God tells the people of Israel that God would make a new covenant with them and would write it on their hearts. The new covenant would fill them with the knowledge of the Lord and God would forgive them and remember their sin no more. They would have new hearts, hearts that would yearn to know more about God and to be in relationship with God.
Lent provides the opportunity to review yearly the story of the people of Israel. It is a story of covenants being made with them again and again. First with Noah, after the flood...then with Abraham, after he was called by God...then with Isaac and Jacob and then with the people of Israel after their exodus from Egypt. The covenant was renewed again and again as the people traveled to the Land of Promise. Then, as time went on the covenant was renewed in reaction to events that happened in the lives of the people of Israel. The prophets spoke the word of God to them and let them know that God desired to have a close relationship with them, an individual relationship which was totally new to these wandering nomads who finally settled down in one location.
This convenant spoken of by Jeremiah was something that the people would have considered ground breaking. The idea that the God of Israel...Yahweh, the powerful, omnipotent deity, would desire to know individuals in an intimate way was a new concept. In days past, this God was distant and considered to be unknowable. Now, God is saying....God wants to know people in an intimate way and God wants them to know all about who God is.
Modern people of faith are about as confused about who God is and how God can be connected to individuals as the ancients were. They have heard the stories again and again throughout their lives but believing that God can actually know them in a personal way is not something that most Christians can connect with. They still consider God to be remote and unapproachable even though they may believe in all that Jesus taught about God. Many people see a dichotomy between Jesus and God, seeing them as two separate beings (despite our teachings on the Trinity and that Jesus and God are One). Many people view God as the unknowable mystery while Jesus is our friend. They forget Jesus' teaching that if you have seen Jesus then you have seen God. Jesus came to live among humans so that they could see God in the flesh and so that God could understand what it meant to be human. Both God and humans could then understand what the other was really like.
It is in the life and teachings of Jesus that we learn who God is and what God wants for human beings as they live their lives on earth. God wants to write God's covenant on our hearts also, even as he did with the people of ancient Israel. God wants humans to know who God is and to desire to know more about God than we do by seeking and finding God in the world around us. God wants humans to have a new heart, a heart that is fashioned by God in such a way that it feels perfectly normal to know that God is present with us at all times.
Lent is winding down...only two more weeks to go until we begin Holy Week that will lead us to Easter. Perhaps in the last days of Lent we can be more devoted to our Lenten disciplines and to devoting ourselves things that will reveal God to our lives. "Create in me a new heart, so I'll give you more than part of this, the life you've given me. Create in me a new heart, then I will teach and others will know and I will learn..." (words by Gayle Schoepf, 1988)