You see, we live in a culture in which broken things lose their value. A broken bowl becomes worthless, tossed into the trash, set on a journey towards a landfill. A broken plate becomes just one more mess to clean up off the floor. A broken person, especially the ones we deem broken on the inside, often becomes a social pariah.
But in Japan, there’s something called kintsugi. It’s the process by which broken things are restored to wholeness, made beautiful once again. With kintsugi, a broken piece of pottery is rebuilt, the shattered pieces knit back together into a fractured whole by applying a shimmering lacquer blended with gold and silver. So, what we might deem broken and beyond repair, the Japanese would consider something worth saving…something worth making beautiful once again.
And more than just restoring something’s beauty, the process of kintsugi makes something even more beautiful than it was before it was broken. It takes the scars of abuse and misuse, the shattered remnants of a once great piece of art, and infuses it with the very elements once fit only for queens and kings. Now gilded with gold, now knit together by the passion of artists committed to restoration, these pieces of pottery stand as reminders that all things are worth saving, especially those things that the world might see as broken beyond repair.
Lent, dear sisters and brothers, is a season in which we are called to embrace our own brokenness. We are invited to recognize that our sins have kept us from living into the fullness of God’s call on our lives. We are called to own up to our own imperfections, not hiding behind a veil of superficial piety. Truly, Beloved of God, we are a broken people. Around the world, we are a fractured body of Christ. Within our nation, we are a people at war with one another. Within this parish, some personal relationships seem to be beyond repair. And within our own individual relationships with Jesus Christ, the brokenness of our sinfulness keeps us from embracing who we are truly called to be. And on this day in particular, a day on which we come before God “worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness”, we smudge our foreheads with the ashes of a festive past as we embrace the presentness of our own broken mortality.
And yet, we don’t confess our sins and embrace our mortality out of a sense of spiritual masochism. This is not simply a half-cocked self help session, probing our brokenness and vulnerability without any sort of endgame. We come before God, bearing our souls, confessing our sinfulness, and embracing our brokenness that we might be made ready to obtain from God, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness of our sins…that we might be made ready to receive new hearts and be set on the path of righteousness. We need not fear being broken open before God, for, like the wonder-working Japanese practitioners of kintsugi, God will never leave us broken…will never leave us in a state of despair and disrepair. God will gild the broken edges of our souls with the finest gold and silver. Though broken, once we are restored, we will be more beautiful and whole than we ever were before this day.
So, today, let yourself be broken. Let yourself be broken into an infinite number of shards if need be. Let your ego, the false images you make for yourself, and your sin-sick soul be broken by the Almighty God who hates nothing he has made and truly forgives those who repent. Wear that ashes on your forehead, not as a sign to the world that you went to church and participated in a rather strange ritual, but as a sign that you are taking the Lenten challenge of Jesus Christ seriously. “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”
*A sermon preached at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church in Los Alamos, NM on Ash Wednesday, March 1 2017. The texts were Joel 2:1-2,12-17, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6,16-21, and .Psalm 103:8-14