Kintsugi is a perfect metaphor for Lent. It reminds us that we are broken vessels. While some of us might believe we are damaged beyond repair, God doesn’t see us that way. God sees our worth. Like a Kintsugi artist, God is the potter and Christ is the gold that bonds us back together. In the end, we are made new – worth more to God because of our golden scars. Hope and resurrection.
In his book A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway writes, “The world breaks everyone and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.” Hemingway’s suicide is a real reminder that life is hard. And it’s impossible to get through without suffering a few cracks along the way. Sadly, too many people give up on life simply because they feel hopeless. The Israelites suffer the same while wandering through an actual wilderness.
Read Numbers 21:4-9.
After Moses led the people out of Egypt, they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Day after day they trampled around the grassy plains...not really sure where God was leading them. When they got thirsty, God gave them water. When they were hungry God gave them food. In spite of all that they were given, they still grumbled. In Egypt they feasted on fresh fruits and vegetables. But out here they at the same thing – manna, which literally translates as “what is this.”
It’s not too difficult then to understand how they felt like God was marching them to their death. They can't take much more. The uncertainty and fear of scarcity is too much for them. They begin to crack. They’d rather go back to being slaves than to suffer in this kind of freedom.
To be fair, slavery was all they knew. For hundreds of years they worked for the Pharaohs – making bricks in the hot sun...seven days a week, 365 days a year, brick after brick they worked. If they did not meet their quota, they were severely beaten. Eventually they were so broken that they cried out to the God of their ancestors who rescued them from their pain and suffering. So why would they want to go back to that place? Perhaps it’s easier to face the devil you know than to trust the unknown.
Think about those people who fight progress with thoughts of nostalgia because deep down inside they don’t really have hope. Maybe you’re one such person. Maybe you don’t believe that God’s means what God says, which requires trusting in the unknown. We’re no different than the Israelites. When life doesn’t go exactly as we want, we too begin to crack. And God gets an earful. Because that’s how we treat the one who gives and gives and gives. But Israel’s story reminds us that even God has a breaking point. When the complaining gets to be too much, God sends a pack of poisonous snakes to shut them up.
The people beg Moses to ask God for mercy. Moses gives in. And so does God, who offers an unusual antidote. Build a bronze snake and lift high on a pole. Anyone who looks at it will be cured and even the dead will come back to life. The people faithfully obey, and all is well for the time being. There will be more complaints and grumblings, but for now it's a happy ending filled with hope and resurrection.
Read Mark 1:9-13
Just as it was with the Israelites, the Holy Spirit takes Jesus out to the wilderness – not to be rescued but to be tempted. Why would God do that to him? Or anyone? Why does God send us out where there’s poisonous snakes and wild animals?
When I read the stories about Jesus’ time in the wilderness I can’t help but think that maybe he needed to face temptations in order to overcome his human nature, his ego. Maybe it is the only way he could fully embrace his divine? If that’s the case then maybe God allows us to be tempted so that we will be able to discover our own divine self. Maybe God sends us to places that will break us apart, so we can get rid of the things that are holding us back from truly becoming who God made us to be: beloved, beautiful works of art.
Mark doesn’t tell us the temptations Jesus faced, but his were no different than our own today. Temptation is temptation. But the hope we can cling to is that when Jesus went out among the wild animals he was not alone. There were angels who waited on him. What this tells me is that the wilderness is a scary place that will try to break us – the threat of attack is real. Yet God has a way of protecting and providing for us.
Like the bronze snake, Jesus will be lifted up. And all who fix their eyes upon him will be restored. Just as God saved the Israelites, so too does God save us. In Christ, we hold onto the hope that God’s promise is real – that not even death can keep us from living in God’s glory. Suffice it to say, we are given this Lenten season to look at our own cracks and complaints, and lift them up to the cross of Christ. Nailed to the cross is our hope. The golden bond of God’s love piecing us back together. In Christ, we are made new, and more valuable than before.
How wonderful it is then that our Lenten journey ends on Good Friday, where pain and love mingle together like broken ceramic and gold. What is created is Easter, the promise of God’s love and grace in its fullness and glory.
Hemingway was right to point out that the path to redemption is coated in pain and suffering. Being broken is an unavoidable part of living in this wilderness. But in Christ, God has made us something more beautiful, and more valuable. Our golden scars become a new story with a new history. The goal is not to hide our scars or pretend that our broken places never existed. But to wear them proudly knowing each scar is a testimony of God at work in our lives.
As you find yourself wandering or lost, not sure where to go or where you are headed, fix your eyes upon the cross. It’s not a magical symbol or icon, but a visible reminder of the hope we have knowing that even through death God rescues and saves us in the most spectacular way. Amen.
Let us pray, God of the living and of the resurrected, during this season of Lent, bring us closer to you. Prepare our hearts and homes for silence and solitude so that we may discover your grace in it’s entirety. Strengthen us with your Holy Spirit to fast from the things that threaten our well-being, and help us to feast on all that is good. When we feel the fear of failure tempting us away, let us never lose site of the cross of Christ so we can always walk in his ways.
Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word, Lenten Companion. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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