This year’s journey to the cross has taken some unexpected turns. I’m not a crafty person, but I had been thinking about a mosaic cross for a while. With no idea how to make it happen, I tossed the idea aside and forgot about it…Until I remembered Jaime Fulsang.
Jaime told me about plexiglass, stained glass, and E6000 craft glue. We debated the best size for the cross. Then Jaime asked if I knew someone with a circular saw.
As it happens, I know someone with two circular saws.
Bill Dischinger and I talked about it. He visited a plastics place and purchased a sheet of acrylic. A few cuts with one of the aforementioned circular saws and—Ta da! We had a cross!
I’m not a crafty person, but I do think theologically about things. As Bill worked on crafting the cross, I began working out the theology. Bringing broken glass to the acrylic cross could symbolize bringing the shards of our individual brokenness to the cross and creating something beautiful out of that brokenness. That’s how I’ve come to understand the meaning of the cross in the life of faith—as a symbol of our collective brokenness redeemed by love.
What I wasn’t prepared for in the cross project was just how meaningful it would become, just how deeply it would touch us. Each week during Lent, we came to the cross, chose a piece of glass, and glued it down. We negotiated for space around the table, shared glue, touched the shoulder of a friend who teared up. When Bill told me that he and Ric Reitz had found a way to backlight and display the cross once we’d finished, I thought, Cool. After only a couple of weeks, I already had a vision of the end product. Easter was going to be great!
Then I got an email from Chris Shiver. “I have an engraver,” he wrote. “Perhaps we can write names or words on some of the glass.” Another unexpected turn, but one that deepened the experience even more. Loneliness. Anxiety. Addiction. Estrangement. The names of loved ones gone or still alive, but struggling. “Even broken, it is well with my soul” one person wrote.
Seeing our own brokenness and that of our friends spelled out, literally clinging to the cross…was deeply moving. After revising my picture of the end product to include engraved words and names, I once again looked forward to the project’s completion.
Then last week happened. As in previous weeks, I invited everyone to bring their brokenness to the cross. Because there still were empty spaces, I encouraged you to fill them up.
Then, before we could get started, Ric Reitz raised his hand. Now, you need to understand. Unless it’s Joys and Concerns, nothing instills fear in a preacher in a worship service like a raised hand. Unless it’s Children’s Time. J “Do we really want to fill up the spaces?” Ric asked. “Won’t an unfinished cross better represent who we are as a community? Aren’t we all still in process? Isn’t God still speaking?”
I confess — Ric’s suggestion threw me. After six weeks of being open to the Spirit’s leading on this thing, taking lots of people’s ideas and weaving them together to create this beautiful cross, I was done with openness. I was ready to tie this thing up with a bow and announce, “It is finished!” I was ready to fill those spaces and get on with our next project.
Then the guy who plays a minister on TV (“Turn,” April 25th, AMC, 9:00 p.m.)… Rev TV derails all my plans by inviting us to remain open, to keep the artwork open by NOT filling the spaces. Those of you who were here last week saw me struggle with the idea, think it through, look around helplessly…like I often do during Children’s Time.
After wrestling a bit, I realized that Rev TV was right. We are people of the still speaking God. We are not complete. There still is brokenness in the world longing to be redeemed by love. Brussels and several state legislatures are sad cases in point.
And so, here’s our cross. A visible reminder that our brokenness can be redeemed by love, especially when we share it with each other. A reminder, too, that there still is much brokenness in our lives and in the world that longs for redemption, for resurrection. We still need each other. The world still needs us to reach out. God’s spirit still hovers over us, calling us to new ways of being, calling us to wholeness.
All through Lent, Allen and I kept noting how the cross project had taken on a life of its own. We were puzzled and amazed–kind of like Peter at the end of today’s Gospel lesson.
My puzzlement lessened when I read the resurrection story. Joseph of Arimathea takes Jesus’ body and lays it in a tomb. Luke tells us that some women had followed Joseph to see where Jesus’ body was laid. That was so they’d know where to come two days later to prepare the body for burial. Leaving the tomb Good Friday evening, they returned to the place they were staying, and prepared the death spices and ointments.
Dawn of the morning after the Sabbath—the earliest time they could arrive—the women came to the tomb bearing the spices they’d prepared, intending to finish the burial process. In their grief, they were doing the expected thing, the honorable thing—completing the burial process for their friend. They were there—respectfully–to tie the bow on Jesus’ life.
Except there was no body. There was no body, but there were two men, who asked the women: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is not here; he is risen.”
In all four Gospels, the first people to discover Jesus’ resurrection are women, which makes sense when you recognize that it was women who tended to the bodies of the sick, the dying, the dead. It was women who removed the garments from the deceased, applied the burial spices and ointments, and wrapped the burial shroud around the body for the last time. Just as bodies entered life through and in the company of women, so did bodies leave life through and in the company of women.
At first stunned by the absence of Jesus’ body and the appearance of the messengers, when reminded of Jesus’ words about being raised, things clicked for the women. Luke doesn’t tell us whether they believed, but they must have sensed something significant had happened, because immediately they go and tell the disciples what they’ve seen.
How do the disciples respond? To them, the women’s account sounds like idle tales. They don’t believe. They don’t remember. They still are looking for the living among the dead.
I wonder if the disciples’ dismissal of the women’s story of the resurrection comes from the fact that they had not been to the tomb. They hadn’t seen the empty space. They hadn’t stood there with jars of spices and jugs of ointment looking for Jesus’ body. For them, the resurrection was still an abstract idea. It’s easy to dismiss things— ideas, news, people—if you distance yourself from their flesh-and-bone, dirt-and-water, living-and-breathing reality.
The only one of the 11 who doesn’t dismiss the women’s story is Peter, who, Luke tells us, ran to the tomb and saw the linen cloth lying in a corner. We don’t know if Peter believed in the resurrection yet, but after his visit to the tomb, he did wonder about it. Engaging the material reality of the resurrection—seeing the empty tomb and the abandoned death shroud—helped Peter move closer to believing.
When I reflect on my ministry in retirement, I suspect I’ll recall this season as “The Year Lent Got Hijacked.” I had such plans! And you all—because you opened yourselves to the deep meaning of the season—kept interjecting plans of your own. I’m being playful when I use the word “hijacked.” Of course, what’s happened this Lent is exactly how living faith in community is supposed to go. No one of us has the best ideas for how to connect with God …not even me. The point of everything we do here is to listen to each other, to engage our imaginations, and together create space where people might meet God. We’ve definitely done that this Lent.
And it hasn’t just been you all. Each week, I’ve posted pictures of the cross on FB. A couple of weeks ago, a songwriting friend who lives in Nashville told me about a song written by her friend, Marcus Hummon. “It would be perfect for your Easter service!” Really? Another detour on our way to the cross? I was resistant. I felt like I’d stayed open to this project well beyond the point most pastors would have. I’d done my part….and now I was done doing it.
Then I listened to the song. It’s called “Stained Glass Love.” Here are some of the words: “It’s a picture made of broken things, Falling feathers from an angels wings The shattered pieces of my past, Are held together like stained glass.” Great, right?
Then I heard the second verse. “Hold the pieces in your hand, and think of how glass is made from sand. Sand together becomes clay. And clay is flesh when God breathes our way.”
When I heard that verse, this whole Lenten adventure with the cross—especially the way it went so deep for most of us—made sense. This glass doesn’t just represent our brokenness… We and the glass are made of the same stuff! Which means that all those bits of broken glass are pieces of us, of our real flesh-and-blood lives.
I think some of the power of this project has come from the fact that we got out of the abstract—out of our heads–and into the real world. As we see in today’s resurrection story, the people who kept things in the abstract—the disciples—struggled to believe. It was the people who actually came to the tomb—the women and Peter—who took one step closer to belief.
Often on Easter we get bogged down asking, Did Jesus really come back to life? That’s a conundrum…which means it’s a question without an answer. It’s academic. It’s abstract.
If we are to understand resurrection, if we are to have some hope of believing in resurrection, it’ll be a whole lot easier if we get out of our heads and into the real world…the world filled with people and food and trees and grass and homes and public restrooms and metro stations and hospital beds … and acrylic…and E6000 glue…and tiny bits of broken glass.
So…Would you like to hear the song? As the song plays, you’re invited to write down a word or two describing what this Lenten experience of the cross has meant for you. When you come forward for communion in a minute, you can bring your response and put it in the basket. I’ll compile them this week and share them next week.
Hear now Marcus Hummons’ song “Stained Glass Love.”
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2016