It was a most unusual cross, a wooden cross, maybe two feet tall and it had pieces of broken mirror attached all over the front like a mosaic. Definitely not your ordinary cross you would expect to find in church, but not so out of place in the chapel of a distant satellite seminary campus housed in a converted medical building. I should have been paying more attention to whatever it was that was happening in class at the time but I couldn’t stop looking at the cross. Then all of a sudden I had one of those “Oh wow!” moments. I thought, what a perfect metaphor that is for life, for my life or anybody’s life who has stumbled or struggled, which is pretty much all of us at some level. It had begun as a broken mirror, apparently useless now for what it was intended to be, ready to be swept up and thrown away. But instead, someone had picked up the pieces and very carefully attached them to the cross. And now here was this completely new thing that was really quite beautiful and that reflected something that just compelled me to look at it.
In a lot of ways our lives are like mirrors we are concerned with what we see and what our friends and neighbors and co-workers see. It’s all about what’s on the surface but we don’t often if ever let anyone see what’s underneath. Much of the time we won’t or can’t even look beneath the surface ourselves. At some point in our lives though, if we are lucky, something happens to make us look. And it usually takes something big to make us look often something traumatic or devastating. And that’s when we find that our life underneath has become like a pile of broken glass shattered and broken, with sharp edges so no one can touch. Our brokenness comes in many forms fears that we refuse to face, hurts that we won’t let go of, envy, greed, criticism, lust, depression, self-doubt, self-pity, self-importance. Sometimes we get broken by events or circumstances, or by the cruelty or indifference of others, and sometimes we do it all by ourselves. The devil knows where our weak points are and that is where he goes to work until we end up broken… broken in spirit, broken-hearted, and with broken hopes and dreams. As long as we remain in a state of brokenness, we are unable to understand wholeness. It keeps us from hearing God telling us how much he loves us and how wonderful are the plans that he has for us. It keeps us from understanding God’s call to live a life of love and service to our brothers and sisters. It keeps us from seeing ourselves as people who have important contributions to make. It prevents us from imagining a future that includes peace and fulfillment. The reflection we see when we look at ourselves is ugly and distorted because the devil has found those weak points and chipped away at them until all we can see is a pile of sharp, ugly, brokenness. But the gift of God is this he gave us the gift of himself through the life of his Son Jesus Christ. Through this gift our brokenness can be restored – not just to our original selves but look! Jesus takes these sharp, ugly, broken pieces that our lives have become and he joins them to himself though the cross. Then we are more than just restored, we are all together new creations who are the reflection of a love so huge that it would give its very life to save ours.
Robert Schuller once said that people come to church the same way they come into the ER bloody, bruised and broken. I have also heard it said that a church is not a museum for saints, but rather a hospital for sinners. It is where we come to get our brokenness fixed, to find healing for our hearts and peace for our spirits. And the reason we come is love. God loves us completely and absolutely, in all our brokenness, with all of our ugly jagged edges and other unloveableness.
Henri Nouwen calls this love God has for us First love. God loved us first. (1 John 4:19) Before we ever were he loved us. (Psalm 139:15-16) As little children we were taught to sing, “Praise him, praise him, all ye little children. God is love! God is love!” It’s so simple, really, and yet somehow we lose the simplicity of it far too easily and far too soon. Our lives become controlled by what Nouwen calls Second love. Now I am not saying that second love is a bad thing but it is always an imperfect thing. It is the love we have for each other husband and wife, parent and child, friend to friend. Second love can be very, very good especially when first love is its model. But at its best it can only be a distorted reflection, a shadow of first love, the love of God for his children, a love that knows no shadows. And at its worst second love can destroy. It can bring doubt, frustration, resentment, anger. It can end up in rejection, betrayal, violence, or self-destruction.
God redeems our brokenness so that we can reflect his love, real love on to a lost and broken world. We can bring it all to him, every sharp, ugly hurt and disappointment or fear, whatever it is that is broken in our lives. God wants to take it all and turn it into a thing of beauty that reflects his unending, undying love out onto a hurting world. Then all those who will see it can find their way to bring their own pain and brokenness to finally lay it down and find healing and peace in God’s perfect love.