April 15, 2017, Easter Vigil – From Stone to Flesh, A Transplant Story – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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One of the miracles of modern science that I am most thankful for is that some doctors and scientists somewhere discovered how to take a healthy human organ from one person’s body and to transplant it into another person whose organ is no longer able to function and support life. If it were not for this amazing discovery, my son Nicholas would have died 23 years ago, when he was just 17 years old. But as it is, Nicholas is healthy now, a husband and a father and a nurse who cares for other people and just generally a kind, gentle, wonderful man.
Many different organs can be transplanted. Nicholas needed a kidney, which is the most common kind of transplant – thousands and thousands of people get kidney transplants every year. But to me, one of the most amazing kinds of transplants is a heart transplant. First of all, like almost any organ transplant, it is a matter of life or death when someone needs a new heart. But unlike a kidney transplant, a new heart can only be received, a person’s life can only be saved, at the cost of another person’s life.
This is God’s promise to us: that he would give us a new heart – not the muscle that circulates the blood in our body, but the heart that makes us human: the heart that enables us to have compassion on the less-fortunate, to feel the pain of those who are suffering, to sacrifice our own needs and desires for the needs of others. God, the Great Surgeon, promised us that he would remove our dead, cold heart of stone, and that he would replace it with a warm, living heart of flesh, because the truth is, without this kind of transplant we would all have died. Indeed, we were all dead in our sins when Jesus came to be our donor.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, along with the rest of mankind,” Paul wrote, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
We can all recognize the symptoms of spiritual heart failure in ourselves – and we need to know that calling it spiritual doesn’t make it any the less fatal. It is easy for us to be so overwhelmed by the need and the hurt in the world around us that sometimes we find our reserves of compassion running on empty. It is very easy, when we see the suffering of another human being, to pass judgment on them, seeing only the negligence or foolishness that brought their suffering upon them, instead of realizing that if were not for the grace of God we might be in exactly the same place as they. How often are our stony hearts so hardened by our fears and our insecurities and our self-interest, that they work overtime to guard us from being too merciful, too forgiving, too gracious?
How often has it happened that someone hurts us – or worse yet, hurts someone we care about – and in our anger and resentment and bitterness we harden our hearts against them like the hardest granite, so that even years later we find ourselves crashing hopelessly against an unforgiveness so solid that not even a chink of light comes through?
How often have our hearts hardened against God himself when we suffer losses and injustices that seem too hard for us to bear? God is, after all, sovereign over the whole creation, surely he could have healed this woman whose little children still needed their Mom? Surely he could have stopped this unkind boss from making every day an exercise in frustration and embarrassment for his employee? Surely he could have sent his angels to protect the car of this young man when he lost control of it, so that his parents would not have lost their only child? In these real situations, and so many more, it is easy for our hearts to grow hard, and for despair to flood in, so that it cuts us off from the source of our life like a blocked artery.
But God has promised all the help we need. “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” When we were on the brink of death, Jesus came into the world to save us from the heart failure that was killing us. He took on himself the burden of all our resentments, all our self-seeking, all our fear, all our hurt, all our bitterness, all our coldness, all our hopelessness. And he offered up his life, so that in place of our cold, stony hearts, he could transplant into us, each one of us, his own warm heart of flesh: a heart of compassion, a heart of kindness, a heart of forgiveness, a heart of love. When you belong to Jesus Christ, it is no longer your heart alone, but his own heart, that beats within you, continually flooding you with abundant and everlasting life and love.
That is the most wonderful hope for our future, because the heart Jesus has given us won’t ever stop beating; his life won’t ever draw to a close like this short earthly life we are living now. As we proclaim in the Burial service: “Whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he die. And everyone who has life, and has committed himself to me in faith, shall not die forever.”
But it is also hope for today. Because we have been sprinkled clean from all our uncleannesses in the waters of our baptism, because we have received the transplant of the new heart of Jesus Christ, we never again need to be hopeless and powerless in the face of our fears or worries or selfishness. We still feel the pull of that old hard heart, of course, like the phantom pain of an arm or leg that has been amputated. But the heart of the risen Christ beats inside every one of us; and its power is stronger by far than any worldly power. In the abundance of his life that flows in and through us, we have everything we need to live and love abundantly every single minute of every day, from this day on.
The thing about a human transplant is that it isn’t just a simple matter of replacing a defective part, like putting a new alternator in your car. When Nicholas got sick, his kidneys had been failing for a very long time, and it had affected everything. Even though he was seventeen, he was so small you would have thought he was twelve or thirteen. But as soon as his new kidney began to work, his whole body began to grow and change and become what it should be. It seemed like we could almost see him grow and change from day to day.
So it is with our new hearts. Our whole selves are being changed and transformed by the new life we receive from Jesus, so that we are growing every day more and more fully what we were created to be. But we can’t always see that growth ourselves. It is hard for look at ourselves and see any change, any transformation. But I can see the change in you, and you can see the change in me. And that is one of the important and crucial functions of being a church – that we can encourage one another, as we see our new life at work.