The Heart that is Open


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, April 9, 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Where we are here and now, as Hafiz so wisely says, “God drew on a map for us.” “Today,” we sing, “the Holy Spirit has brought us together.” Isn’t it wonderful to discover as did Meister Eckhart that, “All the mystics worship the same God.” They all express the same universal truth. We are here in this place today and this is where we must be. We have been called to be here.

It is important to remember as we begin to celebrate Holy Week that it is not about recreating the past. It is about taking the time at this particular moment to open our hearts and minds to Jesus as his Passion is remembered. Few of us take the time to open our hearts and minds to him throughout the year, so Holy Week is a good time to learn something about it by doing it.

I remember when I first became Orthodox and the sights and sounds of Holy Week overwhelmed me. I felt as if I was being translated back 2,000 years ago and was actually at the events of Passion Week. Of course, I was not. Time travel may be possible in the future, but it isn’t now. As romantic and appealing as reliving the past may sound, the celebration of Holy Week is grounded in the present moment for we cannot possibly do it at any other time than now. Oh, we can fantasize that we are in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, but that is delusional. What good is Holy Week if it isn’t about the here and now?

So, here’s one thing Lent has taught me and Holy Week will confirm:  all this ritual and fasting is about opening our hearts and keeping them open.

Look at how Jesus goes through this week from Palm Sunday to the Resurrection. It is really quite remarkable. He experiences almost the entire gamut of possible human emotions from the short-lived elation of Palm Sunday, to the intimacy of the Last Supper, to the physical and psychological agony of Gethsemane, to the Cross and beyond. 

I notice that in spite of all the changes in situation and emotion, the Lord’s heart remains open. He embraces every experience, even the most painful ones freely and he never, ever shuts down. When the heart is open, love naturally flows out of it and we watch as Jesus loves through it all, healing, forgiving and enduring without an iota of self-defense.  When the heart is closed there is nothing but self-absorption. There can be no love, no forgiving no healing. Because his heart is always open, Jesus loves through it all.

Sin, you see, is really nothing more than this: the shutting down of the heart. When the heart is shut the natural energy of compassion that makes us godlike stops flowing and we sink into selfishness.

The path of the Cross the Lord calls us to follow is the path that demands an open heart, so we must learn how to keep our hearts open. It is as simple as asking ourselves throughout the day, “Is my heart open now or is it closed?” Is what I am about to say or do compassionate or is it not? This takes mindful awareness and it is work we are not used to.

However, opening the heart is very simple since the heart’s natural position is to be open. Not only to be open, but to expand! It may be as simple as relaxing the body, for when the heart is closed the body grows tense. Or perhaps it may only take a few deep and conscious breaths to reopen. Get curious about it. It’s worth the effort. The spiritual life is a grand and wonderful adventure.

An open heart sees clearly. An open heart is courageous and compassionate. An open heart is curious and creative. An open heart is beautiful and free of fear. An open heart is loving and kind. Judgment is unknown to a heart that is open. Pain passes through an open heart easily with the sure knowledge that no feeling is forever, no suffering is final. This is one of the lessons of the Cross after all. Death is swallowed up in victory. The tomb, suffering and death, have become life-giving. The heart can afford to stay open for an open heart is eternal.

Another marvelous fruit of allowing the heart to open is something Walt Whitman discovered, “I am larger and better than I thought, I did not think that I held so much goodness.” An open heart overflows with goodness. We are all better than we think.

And there is still another benefit, peace. An open heart is a peaceful heart. Try it and see.

In this time when so many have closed their hearts and are calling us to do the same, we must resist this temptation. I want to make special note of the women of St. Mary’s. I am proud that our women are reaching out to help the battered women and their children who live at the YWCA behind us and have worked tirelessly this last week to help an Iraqi migrant family get on its feet. This is what it looks like to have an open heart. This, my friends, is “church” as it is supposed to be! Let’s do more and not waver in our efforts to fight the good fight and relieve the suffering of our neighbors. This is what open hearts do best!

To conclude, let me simply remind you of this overarching truth. Here and Now is where God is. Here and Now is where Jesus is real. In this present, at this moment, the Spirit is moving. Here and Now we are invited to meet God face to face. Come with open hearts. Come ready to keep them open and receive him who is offering himself to us so completely.

“…the world,” writes St. Paul, “life or death, the present or the future – all belong to you; and you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.” (I Corinthians 3:4)