In one of our newspapers, recently, there was the funeral notice for an elderly woman – she was in her nineties and had just celebrated her seventieth wedding anniversary. The next day, the same paper contained the death notice of her husband and it said quite simply that he had died of “a broken heart”. I do not think there is a medical condition which can be described as a “broken heart”, but we all know exactly what the term means. The old man just could not carry on living without his wife – all those years together meant that he was bereft without her – the pain of separation was too intense – and he could not face life on his own.
In the great Old Testament vision of Daniel (7:13-14) we are reminded that the sovereignty of God’s Promised One will be: “an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire ever be destroyed”. When Jesus does appear, his empire takes an unexpected form, as he declares openly in his trial before Pontius Pilate: “mine is not a kingdom of this world”. “So you are a king then”, is Pilate’s response, which allows Jesus to explain: “Yes, I am a king. I was born for this. I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth, and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice”.
One writer talks of Jesus as “the Man with the broken heart”, and perhaps instinctively we understand more about the true nature of Christ’s sovereignty through this imagery than through any other. To depict Jesus in expensive robes, a sceptre in his hands, with all the external signs of power and authority, is to misread the Incarnation. When Christ comes into our world he comes quietly and unobtrusively – he describes his own ministry in terms of service, even of slavery – he never coerces or forces himself on others. He defines his Father’s nature, and his own, as love, and ultimately it is that love that leads to his heart, literally, being broken open on the cross.
“All who are on the side of truth listen to my voice”. Ever since the first Christmas, Jesus has been searching for human hearts that will recognise and respond to his love. He claims sovereignty only over those who want him to be their king – his subjects have absolute freedom. Cardinal Newman in the 19th century took as his personal motto “heart speaks to heart”, and that phrase really says everything that can be said about Christ’s kingdom “of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace”. It is there for the asking.
The old couple, married for seventy years, and reunited in death, would have understood the meaning of being broken hearted by love. Often it is those who suffer the most, those who experience poverty in spirit, those who know their own weakness and their need for a Saviour, who share an intimate understanding of Christ because he is already part of their experience.
Story by Fr Christopher Colven