This is the third installment in the Best Of Series. (originally published on April 14, 2017)
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are [beautiful] in the broken places.”
In A Farewell to Arms, this sentence reads that some are “strong” in the broken places. But I have substituted the word “beautiful” for Hemingway’s own choice, because today we are talking about the resurrection.
Resurrection is the climax of the story of grace. But before explaining how this is so, let’s look at Matthew’s account of Jesus’ resurrection.
In the predawn light of the third day, the two Marys—Mary Magdalene and the other Mary—crept through the fading shadows to see Jesus’ tomb. An angel was loitering at the scene, perched on the stone that he had rolled away from the entrance.
He said, “You are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised.” (Matthew 28: 5b-6) It was a lot for those two to take in. It’s a lot for me to take in, to be honest.
The angel is saying something like this: If you’re looking for Jesus’ battered corpse, you’re just not going to find it. It’s not here. It’s not anywhere. His corpse hasn’t been moved. It’s been transformed. Jesus isn’t a corpse anymore.
You can catch up with him in Galilee, but don’t go looking for the pre-crucifixion Jesus, either. Once you lay your eyes on him, you can see for yourself. Nails leave a mark, after all. Just like everything else. What Jesus endured made him who he is. But none of that disfigures him. Grace has been at work. God has mended him.
The wounds of the cross are woven together with all that unique stuff that makes Jesus, well, Jesus: the tender moments on his mother’s knee, candlelit dinner with Mary Magdalene, fishing with Peter and Andrew, embracing a startled leper.
Grace has done its finest, most surprising work yet. Grace has mended the fragile body of Jesus.
In her recent book Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lamott briefly compared grace to the Japanese art form Kintsugi. I think it’s an especially apt illustration for the resurrection.
Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery. Artisans mend the chips and cracks of bowls and saucers, pitchers and jars using lacquer mixed with gold dust.
Initially you might assume that the artists are trying to disguise the damage to a piece of pottery by covering it with gold leaf. But these artists aren’t trying to hide anything. They realize that the gold-infused lacquer will effectively draw the eye to the very places where the object has been cracked.
They intend to highlight the broken places. Beauty emerges from the distinctive broken places of each individual object.
Here in the West we’ve received the Greek notion of beauty. We prize flawless harmony and proportion. Flaws diminish the value of a work of art.
Not so for the Japanese.
Wear and cracks and breaks tell the story of each unique thing’s life. Beauty is not found in something’s original, pristine condition. An object’s value lies in the life it has lived. And living always comes with some wear and no small amount of damage.
Rather than hide the broken places from us, the Japanese artists want us to recognize that we are looking at a broken object that has been mended. Mending a fragile thing reveals the deep love that its owner has for the object. It is held too dear to discard, no matter how much damage it has endured.
As I said earlier, resurrection is the climax of the story of grace. In the end, grace mends fragile things.
In the beginning, grace brings into being a universe of tender, fragile things.
Grace abides with these delicate, vulnerable creatures as they grow and mature. As they pass from youthful powers to fading sight, hairy ears, and turkey necks. As they stumble and gasp for breath and howl from the pain of wounded flesh and shattered hearts.
God never intended for the fragile things of this world to retain the pristine condition of a newborn. The living God means for us to live. And living inevitably brings with it wear and breakage.
And so grace reaches its climax by mending fragile, beloved things. That’s what we mean by resurrection.
In the resurrection, God mends the shattered Jesus. And in Jesus’ resurrection, we see the promise of our own.
Now, of course, the resurrection points to life after this life. When we breathe our last, our life—our whole life—will continue on the far shore of eternity. Mended.
But that mending gets its start already right here on planet earth. Sometimes it happens in three days. Sometimes it happens in three hours or three weeks or three decades.
Christ mends the wounds inflicted on us by strangers and lovers, by family and friends, even the blunt force trauma we’ve managed to give ourselves.
None of this is magic. The really big mending projects take a lot of time and no small amount of cooperation by us. And if the truth be told, a lot of our most important mending will continue when we pass from this life to the next.
And so, in the meantime, Jesus would very much like it if we could give ourselves and each other a break. We are all terribly fragile and already more than a little damaged.
God loves each of us too much to even think about discarding us. In the resurrection, we see that God eventually mends fragile things like you and me. And the result is breathtakingly beautiful.