The Rev. Kate Sefton
I want to repeat a part of today’s second reading:
4:6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
4:8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;
4:9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
4:10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
Afflicted but not crushed.
Perplexed but not driven to despair.
Persecuted but not forsaken.
Struck down but not destroyed.
….so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
In this reading, at the same time that he is stressing the importance of our mission to make visible the life of Jesus, Paul acknowledges the frailty of our human existence. Our physical bodies are compared to earthen vessels that, by their nature, are fragile and subject to weakness.
Paul uses imagery that would be very familiar to a 1st century audience. The clay jars he talks about were like the throwaway containers of the ancient world, much like the Styrofoam box you get your hamburger in. Paul says that the message of the life of Christ is stored in weak, fragile, breakable, disposable vessels that are easily chipped or cracked. The message of life in Christ is stored in jars of clay—our fragile earthly bodies.
If you break an actual clay jar or a vase, you might throw it away. If it has sentimental value, you might try to repair it so the cracks are as invisible as possible.
Or, you could take the kintsugi approach. Kintsugi is a Japanese art form in which breaks and repairs are treated as part of the object’s history. Broken ceramics are carefully mended by artisans with a lacquer resin mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum. It treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated. The ceramic is covered in gold or silver veins. Some say that an item repaired by kintsugi looks more beautiful than when it was whole.
Val Jon Farris, of Diamius International, says this: “If such astounding beauty can emerge from the shards of a shattered vase, could a similar transformation also be possible with the parts of us we believe are shattered beyond repair?
While the original form of the vase has forever been destroyed, through Kintsugi’s alchemy, the essence of its beauty not only survives, it thrives. In other words, the transformation is not just about putting the pieces of one’s broken life back together, it’s about a total reinvention of self in which our shattered pieces are alchemized into a beautiful, thriving masterpiece.”
We have something like kintsugi going on right now in Sonoma County; a project called The Holy Ground. As some of you know, Angela Hall Chapel at the Angela Center in Santa Rosa burned down in the October fires.
A group of people are now restoring tiles from behind the altar; finding and collecting small tiles that are burned and covered in toxic ash. (show jar w/burned tiles) Lovingly cleaning them and transforming them into beautiful and evocative jewelry, these folks are part of important healing and transformation. These pieces of glass, tiny and surrounded by darkness and debris, are being changed and made into something entirely new. Something that holds memory of sadness, yes. Something that evokes gladness of heart, memories of singing, praying, Holy Spirit and discernment. When I look at these tiles from the destroyed Angela Hal (show tile pins), cleaned and loved into newness, I know that even in the midst of the most depressing of circumstances, embers of faith can send out clear rays of hope and beauty. These tiles, like the pottery restored by kintsugi, are a kind of resurrection – a bringing about of something new and victorious from destruction and death.
When we look only at the frail clay pot of our body, or of our society’s problems, despair is the natural result. It seems entirely possible that despair can make us shortsighted.
What if we’re supposed to be frail, to be flawed? What if that’s how we find out what else we are meant to become? What if pain and sin and failure and frustration are opportunities to put ourselves/our communities back together in new shapes, new and transformed purpose?
Songwriter, Buddhist, poet Leonard Cohen wrote a song called Anthem. I’d like to share some of the lines of this song, and I invite you to look it up and give it a listen. Cohen writes:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in.
With great respect to Leonard Cohen, what if that’s also how the light gets OUT?
It seems possible that our weakness is essential for the display of God’s power. It’s not until the jar is cracked that the light can shine out. Is that perhaps why we are asked to live in hope, why Jesus came to remind us to hope, to see past death? To see the jewelry in ruined tiles? To see the glory in gold-mended pottery? To be lifted up by Jesus changing crucifixion from a bloody and painful tortured death to a victory? Is that not why some of us wear a cross as jewelry? Because we are victorious over death thru HIS victory, his resurrection. Maybe the gift is in the accepting of the darkness and just as readily accepting the resurrection and rebirth of light. In our cracked, burnt, flawed selves, that light is reborn and shines forth when we accept ourselves as vessels in which light can be carried and shared. Through the cracks. This is what it means to be a resurrection people.