a guest editorial by Pfarrer Dr Gottfried Martens
translated by Dr. John Stephenson
God says, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26 RSV): comments on the ecumenical text (Losung) chosen for the year 2017, which happens to be the Five Hundredth Jubilee of the Reformation.
When we engage in electronic communication with other people these days, we often employ so-called emojis, symbols that aim to give non-verbal form to feelings. By this point there are so many emojis that we can even find an Emojiwiki on the Internet where we can look up the meaning of all the many emojis. We there find explanations of what a yellow heart stands for in an electronic message; it stands for optimism, encouragement, and joy in life.
We see nearby a yellow heart on the image with which the artist Ulrike Wilke-Müller interprets the Text for the Year (Jahreslosung). And yet we would completely misunderstand this picture if we saw in it only an emoji offering a brief and instantly comprehensible message that could be put in words as “Hold your heads up high and think positively!” No, it would be worthwhile to subject this image to a much more precise inspection.
Whatever may be the case with emojis, a yellow heart is and remains unusual; we are much more familiar with a red heart as a sign of love. And yet Holy Scripture makes it abundantly plain that our human heart, that which stands for our inmost essence, that which pushes us on and defines us, has a radically different colour. From our first heartbeat on it is black, closed to God’s love, hard, and turned in on itself. And this black heart has no future, it cannot endure before the eyes of God when He examines and judges our hearts, our inmost essence, that which defines and stamps our lives.
And yet in the Losung for this New Year 2017 we hear a grandiose promise of God: He Himself removes this black heart and replaces it with a new heart; with us as the patients, He undertakes a lifesaving heart transplant. Let us pay close attention to what God promises here. He doesn’t say, “You must make an effort to purify your hearts”! He doesn’t say, “I’ll give you tips how to change your hearts”! He doesn’t say, “You have to take a decision for Me, and then I’ll give you a new heart”! On the contrary, God Himself sees quite clearly that we ourselves can do nothing to get a new heart and a new spirit; we can do zilch to cooperate in our own salvation. He Himself really must do the whole thing for us, He must turn us into people who are open to Him and His Word, to Him and His love.
Yellow indeed, as a sign of God’s presence, as a sign of something completely new that God creates. A yellow new heart bestowed by God and suffused with His presence—what a marvellous promise! And now it behoves us to look more closely at Frau Wilke-Müller’s artwork.
We see as it were rays that shine fom above into this heart and suffuse it: God places His new spirit in us and suffuses it with His own Spirit. Shades of blue surround the heart on the left side, a reminder of Holy Baptism in which God carried out this heart transplant upon us, in which God gave us a new heart and bestowed His Spirit upon us.
We see here how a Cross shines above the heart and reaches into it. The new heart is determined by the love that God Himself has proved to us by surrendering His own Son to the Cross. Our heart only becomes luminously bright through the Cross, only through the forgiveness we receive by the Cross do our black guilt and failure retreat from the centre of our lives.
In the centre of the heart we see an opened door. The One who has bestowed the new heart does not remain outside, but lives within us and makes our hearts His dwelling. No, we must not “let God into our hearts”. God already invites Himself inside and comes in. Shades of red dominate the right side of the picture, a reminder of the blood of Christ that washes us clean from our sin, the blood that we receive in the holy sacrament of the altar, the blood in which Christ takes up residenc e in us and continually nurtures and strengthens our new heart.
If we look closely, we see that the heart is formed by the two Tables of the Law, by the Tables of the Ten Commandments. What a marvellous image—as Christians we don’t need to adhere to thousands of discrete legal prescriptions. On the contrary, God’s will itself is written in our heart, when we have received this new heart. The way we follow God’s will is for God’s Spirit to move us, the Spirit who makes us God’s children, people whose hearts cling wholly to their Father and His Word.
And when we take a final look at the image, in the very centre of the heart, where the two sides intersect, we notice a grain of wheat. Yes, we already have the new heart, we can already live as new people. And yet there is oftentimes so little outward evidence of this in our lives. The grain of wheat is already planted in us, but everything that is still to develop from this will only be fully perceived at the goal of our lives, in God’s new world. And that we arrive at that point, despite all our failure, this is something that God Himself takes care of, He who bestows the new heart upon us and places the new spirit within us. This is the whole point of the Lutheran Reformation past and present!
I wish you a blessed Reformation Jubilee Year 2017,