Pastor Jenna Bergeson + December 17, 2023
Pastor Jenna explores the history and symbolism of the ❤️ shape, emphasizing that true love goes beyond superficial depictions. She shares the story of Margaret Mary and the devotion to the Sacred Heart, highlighting the profound love it represents. Connecting this with the biblical narrative of Mary and Elizabeth, Pastor Jenna encourages a deep reflection on the abiding nature of love, challenging us to embrace a more profound understanding of love rooted in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
Alright, good morning.
I would like to share the first screen with you and ask, who can tell me what this mix of letters and symbols means? What does this say?
That's right. I think we all recognize that double arch that comes together in a point at the end, and we recognize that as what shape? A heart. And the heart, that is the organ in our chest cavity, and that now infamous shape is recognized around the world as a symbol of what—you are so smart, all of you.
So, I did a little digging because this stirred a lot of curiosity for me. And I will start here by saying there is a lot of information out there about the origin of the heart shape and how that shape, the heart, came to represent love in our culture today and around the world.
So, there are a couple of different, like I said, theories and origin stories. Some say that the shape of the heart came from ivy leaves and the shape they make, or the silphium seed, which also makes a shape that's similar to that. Some believe that it's actually depicting human anatomy, highlighting certain "assets" of the male or female form. And I'm personally glad that history didn't go in that direction because otherwise, we might be saying things like, "My butt is bursting with love" or "I am suffering from a broken butt." So maybe it's good that we didn't go in that direction.
The first known depiction of the physical shape and form of the heart shape is believed to be from a French manuscript that is dated to the 1250s. There is a manuscript that shows an image of a man holding up what appears to be a heart to a woman who is perceived to be his lover.
So, how did it become depicted then, the heart as the emotional sense of our being? Again, there are lots of different theories, there are lots of different stories. One of them is that Aristotle believed that the heart was the origin of blood, and the significance of blood being this source of life carries throughout history and in our theology as well, as Christians, right? When we gather for worship, we take in the body and the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus. And so, since the heart then pumps blood and pumps life throughout our entire body, it was believed to be the utmost vital organ and so it was connected with the vital nature of love.
Another interesting thing I found is that ancient Romans held a curious belief that there was a vein that ran from one's finger directly to the heart through this vein that's called the vena amorus. And I'm wondering, can you guess from which finger this vein starts? That is where the origin of our wedding ring came from. The ancient Romans believed that there was a single vein that went from the fourth finger on the left hand directly to the heart.
So, by no means is this an all-inclusive history lesson for you today. There are myths, origin stories, and hypotheses that come from all over the world around hearts and love, and a lot of the things I shared with you are things that I found from European history and from the West. And so, I want to take note that there are gaps that are missing today from our siblings in the East, in Africa, in Central and South America, and other places. But there's also some more modern history that we have around hearts and love.
Some of you may know that hearts, this image, is used to measure health or life in video games. How many of you are very aware of that? Anybody? All right, I see a lot of younger hands, but some older ones too. I love it. It also became an icon in the classic "I Heart New York" shirt, which was used to revitalize that city when it was going through hardship. That shirt came out in 1977, and that is a big part of our history that led that heart image in being a verb like what we saw earlier. The heart is used also in decks of cards as a suit, and that has been going on since the 15th century.
And I have a question for you, which might be a good trivia question someday. Do you know how many hearts or heart emojis are in this standard emoji keyboard? Any guesses? That's a really good guess, Alec. It is more than 30, more than 30, which includes the mending heart, the heart organ, burning heart, brown, white, red, yellow, orange, purple, green, black, and blue hearts, pink revolving hearts, pink floating hearts, pink heart with a bow, pink heart with an arrow, pink heart with stars, mini heart, exclamation point, the heart suit, heart beating, heart eyes, cat heart eyes, white heart in the purple box, growing heart, broken heart, heart set in a church, and heart set between people, and more. That is a lot of hearts, and that is a lot of love, isn't it?
Well, church, you might not be surprised to hear me say I had a lot of fun looking into these things, and in my research, I also settled into a realization. Our depictions of love have become rather cheap and watered down in a lot of cases because the love that we preach, the love that we read about in the Gospel, is so much more than cat heart emoji eyes, is it not?
So, in my research, I also found a story that I wanted to share with you this morning, and it comes from our Roman Catholic siblings. I'm wondering, have any of you heard before of Sacred Heart? Is that something? Yeah, I see some heads that are hands raised and heads that are nodding. So, I actually went to a private school, a private Roman Catholic school when I was growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, called Sacred Heart. And I never thought to question where that name came from.
So, I want to share with you today a story from the University of Notre Dame, which depicts that story.
Margaret Mary Alacoque was born in 1647 in the Burgundy region of France. Her father died when she was 8 years old, and her family then plunged into poverty as their father's estate was withheld from them by his trustee. Margaret Mary was sent to receive her education from a nearby community of sisters, and she became a nun in December of 1673.
While she was praying, Margaret Mary heard Jesus speaking to her. He told Margaret Mary that he wanted to spread the love of his heart through her and that she would reveal to many people the grace that he desires always to bestow on humanity. In this vision, Margaret Mary saw Jesus take her heart and place it within his, setting it aflame with divine love that continued to burn in her heart as it returned back to her body. Over the next 18 months, Jesus continued to appear to Margaret Mary to further explain his desire for his heart to be honored in the devotion and image that is now known as the Sacred Heart.
So, what does devotion to the Sacred Heart mean? Jesus described his heart, according to Margaret Mary, as, quote, "the heart that has so loved humanity that it has spared nothing, even exhausting and consuming itself in testimony of its love." The Sacred Heart represents the fullness of God's love for humanity and the overflowing generosity of Christ's gift of self in the act of salvation.
In a letter, Margaret Mary described the Sacred Heart as an abyss of all blessings. It is an abyss of joy in which all of us can immerse our sorrows. It is an abyss of loneliness to counteract our foolishness, an abyss of mercy for the wretched, an abyss of love to meet our every need.
Now, Margaret Mary endured many trials after she experienced these visions, mostly from within her own community. Many of her fellow sisters didn't believe her and accused her of hypocrisy and putting on airs. She faced verbal and sometimes physical abuse for this, and yet she received it with charitable patience.
Claude La Colombière was chosen as the confessor of the convent where she was, and it wasn't until after he listened to Margaret Mary describe her visions to him and declared them authentic that these visions were then believed to be true. I could give a whole sermon on that, let me tell you. But in the end, Margaret Mary's own devotion and dedication to the Sacred Heart and her witness of love for her sisters and all those around her became their own testament for the authenticity of her visions and this belief that she had in Christ's love.
Margaret Mary's health from her childhood continued to plague her her whole life, and she grew weaker and weaker in the years following her visions. But the divine flame of love in her heart never weakened. Even as she lay dying on October 16th, 1690, Margaret Mary said, "I need nothing but God and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus."
As we consider Margaret Mary's story, I want to invite you to take a time of meditation and reflection with the other story we heard today, which talks about these two women, Mary and Elizabeth. I have a statue that I got in Bethlehem made from olive wood, and it depicts a pregnant woman. And I've always considered this pregnant woman to be Mary. But this story today reminds me that it could very well be Elizabeth.
And there's another picture I want to share with you today. This is showing a statue that is depicting pregnant Mary and pregnant Elizabeth together. This is in a village just outside, about six miles from Bethlehem called En Kerem. And this is believed to be the village where Elizabeth lived. And it is also told that in their various stages of their pregnancy, that Mary and Elizabeth spent time together.
So, I want to invite you then to reread this text for just a few minutes now and to consider how you feel love abides in the stories of these women. So, if you have a minute, I'm going to just read for you a little bit of that story.
The text tells us, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be holy. He will be called Son of God. And now your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her when she was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Mary said, "Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word." And then the angel departed from her.
There's no doubt that maybe even today you will encounter heart emojis and heart shapes, and I don't want to leave with the message that that is an indication or a depiction of a cheap, watered-down love. But rather, I want to challenge you. When you see those shapes and when you send those messages—I send those, too—don't feel like I'm calling you out or anything. But when you send these messages of love to your neighbors, to your loved ones, I want to just challenge and encourage you to think about the deep abiding love of Christ, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
December 21 is almost here, and who knows what that day is? There's a lot of different names that can go by, right? Winter solstice, the longest night, blue Christmas. It is known as the longest night of the year. And so, with that, I invite you to consider this as a reminder that God's love not only penetrates but it abides in darkness. From womb to tomb, the love of God starts and ends abiding in darkness.
With God's love a flame in us, may we be reminded that love is not cheap or watered down in our love from God, but it is something that will carry us through all challenges. It is something that will be with us through all hardships. And once again, it started with a womb.