Good Friday Year C: John 18:1-19:42
St. Peter’s, Skidaway Island
The Rev. Kelly Steele
Have you ever felt like you’ve been broken open? Have you faced the deep darkness? Like you’ve been beaten and broken? This is a foundational truth of the universe: broken life or a broken heart, nobody comes out of life unscathed. I know I have. That’s the wisdom of Good Friday: meditating on our own suffering to help us understand Christ’s suffering.
Some of you know that when I was 21, I got my wisdom teeth removed, and while talking on the phone with a friend two days later, I got tongue-tied. I started seeing double, so I laid off the Vicodin and went to bed. My arms tingled all night like I had pins and needles and I didn’t sleep. I thought it was Vicodin withdrawal or some reaction to the medicine. The next morning, I went to get up to go to the bathroom and my legs gave out, in pins and needles again. We rushed to the hospital, terrified. After a battery of tests and emotional trauma in the ER, I found out that I had a life-threatening form of acute paresis induced by a faulty immune system. It’s a rare form of immune system malfunction called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. I had muscle weakness in my legs so I couldn’t walk. I lost feeling in my torso, arms, neck and face. My eyes crossed, so I had constant double vision because the nerves controlling eye movement needed to be regrown. An immunoglobulin transfusion reset my immune system and stopped the progression of the illness, but it took me six months to regain any normalcy. I was in the ICU for two weeks, in rehab for two more weeks and outpatient rehab for months. And let me tell you, my parents broke down. I broke down. We had no idea what this was, never heard of it. Frequently, I asked “Why me?” As I hurled my Christian faith at the sky, angry that my God would subject me to this mess. I still don’t have an answer to why my body got cracked open that day.
Life goes out of control. Everything from minor inconveniences that pile up to life-changing tragedy, life isn’t perfect. And there are dark days where you find yourself at the end of your rope. You’ve loved and lost. Things break, whether they are your lifestyle or your heart. Suffering makes you question what’s wrong with the world. You’re stuck with the mess of life, mess you’ve made or mess someone else made. Circumstances can be brutal: anything from a broken heart to a broken life. As I said a few weeks ago at the beginning of Lent, Life isn’t one big Mardi Gras. Sometimes the powers of this world break you [drop the bowl HARD] and all you’re left with is brokenness. And what does God have to say to that?
What comes after destruction? What happens when your life is shattered?
If you’re like me, you know you can’t ignore the brokenness. It haunts you. And, in the case of Jesus from today’s Gospel reading, trouble sometimes happens to you. You don’t choose the trouble, it chooses you. And, like pottery, Jesus is cracked open on the cross. He bleeds and he suffers the deepest human misery. Good Friday is the day that we remember and meditate on this.
Compelled by the ugliness of shattered pottery, 15th Century Japanese craftsmen sought a method of repair that enhanced rather than detracted the beauty of the original pottery. No more metal staples, they thought. They used this ugliness as a catalyst. They mused, “What’s next?”
And they came up with an ingenious answer to the ugly brokenness of cracked pottery. Instead of hiding the crack, they enhanced it with golden glue. [Reveal fixed bowl]
They came to see the brokenness as an inevitable aspect of lived life. It grew so popular that now, people break their expensive pottery in order to repair it with beautiful golden seams. It’s now an artform called Kintsukuroi, that highlights “the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage.” Now, it’s a whole philosophy called Kintsugi, the Japanese method of embracing the flawed or imperfect. Like embracing our dimples or crows feet as a marker for years of smiling, they embrace the cracked pottery as a metaphor for life’s struggles.
Jesus does something similar.
Jesus, the God-man, opened wide his arms of mercy on the cross, uniting the Creator of the Universe with human destruction, merging human suffering with Godly Love. And Christians claim that the love of God in Jesus is united to and stronger than death. Christ defeated death by death, and emblazoned human flaws with a golden seal of God’s love.
So, despite my doubts and anger during my Guillain-Barre Episode, I went to church, and a kind and generous woman asked about my life, and heard my recent story of debilitating illness. She looked me in the eye and said, “You now have a level of compassion that was inaccessible to you before this terrible event. You now see how terribly unfair the world is, even at your age. I hope you’ll remember how it feels to be an outcast, a person dependent on others, humbled. So many need that compassion you now have. It’s a gift for you, keep it.”
I initially balked at her words, that suffering can be a gift. But, as someone who had to relearn how to walk, use my arms, talk and see without double-vision, I was greatly humbled. I can look back now and see that experience taught me empathy and respect for those other people in the ICU, in the rehab hospital, the nurses, doctors, PTs, OTs, and even insurance providers. Living as a cross-eyed woman who therefore couldn’t drive myself to work, I never saw crossed-eyed people the same way again. My employment choices were extremely limited. And people snickered and laughed. It was totally humbling, and that’s only a small portion of the kind of suffering many people experience. The experience cracked my heart open, and God’s love filled it. I got new eyes for the flawed.
It doesn’t explain my suffering or any suffering, but I never forgot it. My suffering opened my heart in a way that allowed me to grow, to relate, and to love at a deeper level than my pride would have allowed before. Suffering destroys what we thought we had, but it also creates. Suffering cracks us open. Brokenness is often where the Spirit enters. I now have a new part of me that enlarges my heart.
Christians say the inexpressible, infinite God, the Creator of Everything, became human in Jesus to experience that crappy aspect of human life, loss of control, being broken open. Much more than a broken bowl, Christ experienced a broken body. The God-man, Jesus, lived an innocent life, but the world destroyed him like it does. As we just saw, Jesus was arrested, interrogated, condemned, killed and laid in a tomb. And Christians allow this flawed story to become part of our story, our embrace of life well-lived. Christians say Christ’s sacrificial love emblazons the world’s flaws with golden love, much like the Japanese embrace the flaws in a priceless bowl in Kintsukuroi. Christ meets destruction with love.
Christians also believe that as God, Jesus was our golden-sealant. He entered the brokenness of humanity, that broken pottery of our collective life, and reset everything in his sacrificial love. He pieced together divinity and humanity by connecting human suffering to God’s life, forever joining them.
As we’ll see by the time we get to Easter Sunday, “Jesus is, in effect, saying, ‘This [self-sacrificial love of God] is how evil is transformed into good. I am going to take the worst thing and turn it into the best thing, so you will never be victimized, destroyed, or helpless again! I am giving YOU the victory over death.’” Destruction and death was overcome by Christ’s relentless, self-emptying Love.
As the Lord of Life, Jesus pieces us back together. He pierced my life together in a new way, a life filled with more compassion. And he does this once on the cross and forever after, piecing together humanity in his Loving image.