They Call it Heartbreak Hill
They call it Heartbreak Hill. It rises between the twentieth and twenty-first miles of the route of the Boston Marathon. It’s not much of a hill, unless you’ve been running for twenty miles and have no more glycogen left to power your leg muscles. You see this gradual rise and you know you only have six miles left, but then you hit the wall and your will to keep running vanishes. That’s why they call it Heartbreak Hill.
But at yesterday’s marathon, the heartbreak was elsewhere. It was at the finish line, where the bombs detonated. It was on Boston Common, where the final waves of runners were rerouted and then left to seek out frantic family members. It was at local hospitals, where trauma teams worked round the clock with valiant and tireless conviction. It was in the heart of each of us watching the confused, yet ardent news coverage.
And it was in the heart of God.
The heart of God broke yesterday along with ours. The heart of God broke for those who died in such senseless savagery, for those who were maimed, and for those who love them. The heart of God broke because those of God’s children who perpetrated this act of terror have severed themselves from the image of God within them.
So what are we to do with a God who has a broken heart? The answer might surprise you. What are we to do? Rejoice. Why? Because our God is a God of compassion, a God who suffers with us, a God who was there yesterday when the plumes of smoke began to rise and the tears began to fall.
To rejoice, we do not have to stop feeling sad or angry or lost or afraid. As a matter of fact, the most sincere rejoicing happens when we feel such feelings. To rejoice is to take joy, and joy is the abiding sense of God’s connectedness with God’s creation. Today, we need to feel that connection, we need to feel God suffering with us, and we need to feel God’s heart breaking. We need to feel these things because when God’s heart breaks, our own broken hearts are drawn to it – mystically and magnetically.
I live a short bus ride, a red line train ride, and a green line train ride from Copley Square. I have walked past Marathon Sports many times in the last few years, usually on the way to a restaurant or Trinity Church. But every time I walk by it now, I will remember God’s heart breaking yesterday and swallowing all of our collective brokenness into its depths of love.
Speaking of love, there’s an image from yesterday’s shaky video footage that I can’t get out of my mind. Within thirty seconds of the first bomb’s detonation, emergency responders were running to the sight of the blast. But they couldn’t get there because a barrier had been erected to separate the spectators from the runners. So the emergency personnel started tearing at it, stomping on it, and pulling it with all their might. It took a dozen of so of them to move it, but once they exerted their frenzied energy, the barrier didn’t stand a chance. They dragged the multiple layers of the wall into the street and rushed to help the victims.
I can’t think of a better image for what God accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we continue to celebrate during this season of Easter. Once for all, God tore down the barrier between life, death, and new life. God proclaimed God’s willingness to stay connected to God’s creation, come what may. God finished the race, won the victory, and left death behind, struggling up Heartbreak Hill. In the power of the resurrection, the heart of God, which broke when Jesus hung broken on the cross, was healed. And in the power of the resurrection, all of our broken hearts will find wholeness again.