It was about two years ago, on a Sunday morning, after worship and after just about everybody else had left, when one of our deacons came to my study. She was visibly upset. “I am so clumsy,” she said, “I was washing the communion cups and I hit one against the edge of the sink. Can you believe it? I broke the chalice. Is there a way to get a replacement? I’ll be glad to pay for it.”
The way she talked about it, it sounded like the chalice was shattered to pieces, but it wasn’t bad at all, just a few small pieces missing from the base, and it looked like none of them had disappeared down the drain. “I think I can fix that,” I told her. “We probably need another set anyway, just in case, but I think we can fix this one and continue to use it. I don’t want you to think you have to pay for it, just because you broke it. We’re not Pottery Barn. Sometimes things break when we handle them, it’s part of life. I’m grateful that you give a portion of your Sunday to clean up when everybody else has gone to lunch. See, the pieces fit nicely, there’s just a tiny chip missing. I think I like that the chalice isn’t perfect, that it’s showing signs of wear. It’s an earthen vessel, just like we are, with cracks and flaws; what is perfect is the love we receive and share through it.”
So I used superglue to repair the chalice, and we’ve been using it ever since, beautiful in its imperfection.
Let’s say your clumsy husband broke a piece of your grandmother’s china that your mother gave you on your wedding day, would you want him to say, “I think I can fix that”? Probably not. You don’t want a piece of superglued china on your dinner table, even if it’s just a humble saucer. You’d go to replacements.com and see if you can find it, perhaps wondering if you should get a replacement for your husband while you’re there, one who appreciates fine china that’s been in the family for three generations—but that thought only briefly crosses your mind, just for comic relief.
When it’s broken, do you repair it or replace it?
Depends on what it is.
Three weeks ago, on the Third Sunday in Lent, as part of our prayers of confession, we tore strips of fabric from a large piece of cloth. The tearing helped us visualize how our sinful actions fracture and fray the wholeness of life. “We confess our surrender to fear,” we prayed. “We confess our prejudice and contempt toward others. We confess our impatience with ourselves and with one another. We confess our lack of faith in your mercy,” we prayed, naming the brokenness within and between us, a brokenness we both suffer and cause.
Today we have spread palm branches up and down the center aisle of the sanctuary, turning it into the highway of the Lord, stretching from the gates of the city to the royal banquet hall where the nations of the world gather for the feast of peace. Today we welcome the Lord Jesus into the city, singing with joyful exuberance, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” We sing, because we do want him here, we do want him to rule and to make all things right and whole and beautiful. But look how poor he is: he doesn’t even own a donkey; he had to borrow one for the parade. What kind of king comes to town on a rental?
Matthew quotes from the prophet Zechariah to describe the scene, “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” But Matthew doesn’t quote the whole verse; he drops “triumphant and victorious” so all that remains is, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” In the sermon on the mount, the same word, here translated “humble,” is translated “meek”: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. The meek, in the company of their humble king, will inherit the earth. Our own visions of a world made right often have more in common with imperial dreams of world domination than with the peculiar way of Christ. We get power wrong. We see the donkey, but in our imagination we still envision the strong man in shining armor, riding high on a white stallion, who comes to save us. We see Jesus, but we still dream of a superhero. And so we watch the parade, hoping that this humble savior will transfigure and convert our dreams. We call this week ‘holy’ because we enter the mystery of God’s power revealed in the life and death of Jesus.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” the Apostle Paul urges believers in Philippi. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit … Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4). Such words were rare and foreign in a city like Philippi. The citizens of Philippi cherished their connections to the imperial household, and their privileges as friends of Caesar. Roman culture valued force, competition, and honor-seeking. Humility was not considered a virtue. Roman society, much like ours, was built on the pursuit of status. You move up, and you socialize with the people who can help you move up even higher. You only look around to check out the competition with a quick glance over your shoulder. You press on, your eyes on the next rung of the ladder, leaving behind those who cannot keep up.
Jesus moves in the opposite direction. Jesus emptied himself, Paul tell us. He humbled himself. He “made himself of no reputation,” as the King James Bible renders the words so beautifully. He climbed down the ladder, his mind on nothing but the will of God, loving us sinners with a passion and a vulnerability for which we have no words. We call this week ‘holy’ because the final days of Jesus’ life on earth reveal to us the heart of reality, and it’s not relentless competition in the pursuit of status, but rather relentless love in the pursuit of communion. Jesus climbed down, all the way down, for love’s sake.
‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord,’ we sometimes sing, as though we could say, “They did it. It was the Romans, it was the Jews, it was the fickle crowd—it wasn’t me.” But the cross is our doing. This is what we do to each other in the name of religion or in the name of justice or truth or political convenience, in the name of whatever works for us. The cross is the culmination of our desire to be like God, the culmination of our rebellion against life as creatures made in the image of God. But this dark Friday truth has a glorious, hopeful side: God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him, the crucified slave, the name above all names. And because God raised Jesus from the dead, we can look to the cross and see more than the culmination of our rebellion against the life God has intended. We see love that goes all the way for the life of the world, for the sake of communion with us.
You have noticed the banner with the purple cross. It is woven from the strips of fabric we tore from a large piece of cloth three Sundays ago while confessing our participation in tearing up the fabric of life God has created. The cross shows us the hope for a new wholeness to be found beyond the fractures and slashes we have suffered and caused. It speaks of healing, of forgiveness and reconciliation.
In just a few moments we will share the Lord’s supper. We will again give thanks for the life God shares with us, for God’s relentless love, and for the hope that in Christ all of life is being restored and fulfilled, to the glory of God. After you eat the bread and drink the cup, we invite you to briefly stop at the banner. You will notice pieces of golden thread at each of the intersections where the strips of fabric cross over and under each other. You are invited to tie a knot at those crossings. You can do it as a prayer for wholeness for a particular situation or relationship, or to affirm your faith in God whose love will not let us go. Tying a knot is a small action, but it is part of the new wholeness God is creating from the fragments of our lives.
The chalice I mentioned at the beginning? I used superglue to repair it. I hoped that the fit would be tight, so tight that the cracks would be reduced to barely visible hairlines—good as new, as we like to say. It was months later when I learned about a very different approach to repairing broken pottery. It is a Japanese technique called Kintsugi, which means ‘golden joinery.’ The repairer uses lacquer or epoxy, dusted or mixed with powdered gold, to fit the pieces back together. Rather than hiding the damage, Kintsugi accentuates the fracture lines with precious metal. The brokenness isn’t disguised, but made beautiful in a new wholeness. The broken vessel isn’t merely repaired, but recreated in new beauty.
Isn’t that what God does? Isn’t that what we affirm God’s faithful love does with our broken lives? Refuse the urge to replace, but recreate in glorious beauty?
 Zechariah 9:9
 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintsugi