Broken to be a blessing
Sometimes, you read a verse of scripture and you think, Whaaat? What on earth could that mean? There was one of those verses in today’s reading from Colossians chapter 1. It’s verse 24; perhaps it made you wonder too. Let’s hear it again. St Paul says:
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.
Paul actually says, ‘in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions…’
Hang on, I thought, the first time I read that years ago. Didn’t Jesus die for the whole world on the cross? Didn’t he bear our sins on the cross? Wasn’t it a ‘perfect sacrifice’ for sin? How could there be anything ‘lacking in his afflictions’? Has Paul gone nuts? Perhaps he has! Read a few verses earlier, and you’ll see that Paul says this:
through [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Here, Paul says that on the cross God reconciled all things everywhere to himself through Jesus. Because of Jesus, we are at peace with God. We’re not partly at peace, we’re not half-reconciled to God. We are wholly at peace with God, we are fully reconciled, we are God’s beloved sons and daughters, we have a place in God’s loving heart. We are fully alive, and why? Because we been drawn into the grace-full, eternal, loving dance of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Notice that all these things are true whether or not we feel them to be true. So what on earth could possibly be ‘“lacking” in Christ’s afflictions’?
Let’s hold that question, while we look at something we’ll be doing soon.
That ‘something’ is sharing the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We’re going to take bread and wine, broken bread and poured out wine, and we’re going to eat and drink.
After we break the bread and lift the cup, we’ll say this:
Let us receive what we are;
let us become what we receive.
The body of Christ.
These words come from St Augustine, who lived between 354 and 430. ‘Let us receive what we are; let us become what we receive. The body of Christ.’
There’s a clue here, a clue that shows us how Paul can complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. And how we also may complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. It’s all about the Body of Christ and what the Body of Christ is.
The Body of Christ is three things:
- It’s the body of Jesus, which hung on the cross;
- It’s the bread on this table, which we will eat and in doing that receive the Body of Christ;
- It’s us. We are the Body of Christ, the Church.
The Body of Christ is the body of Jesus, making peace between humanity and God through the cross. Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and humbling himself for us. He went to the cross out of love for us; his body was pierced for us, broken for us.
The Body of Christ is this bread that we share in the Holy Meal of Communion. It’s just a small piece of broken bread, dipped in wine; yet as we receive it, we receive our crucified and risen Lord Jesus. All of him, not just a little piece. He comes to us and he lifts us up into the heavenly places.
The Body of Christ is us. We share the one bread, therefore we are one body, the Body of Christ. We too are called to empty ourselves with Jesus, to humble ourselves and to be broken with Jesus for the sake of the world.
The Body of Christ is always broken, broken for the sake of the world. Just as Jesus’ body was broken; and just as the bread is broken, so we too are broken.
Because we are broken, aren’t we? It’s not that we ‘will be’ broken, or we ‘should be’ broken. We are broken people. And Christ works through us as we share our lives with others as broken people. As we share life as broken bits of the Body of Christ, Jesus comes to others. All of him, not just a little bit.
People who are broken for Christ, people who are broken with Christ are vulnerable. They are able to be honest with others. They are able to allow others to take first place. They are hospitable, warm and open. In fact, they are both broken and beautiful in their brokenness.
I think that goes against the grain for many of us. We want to be seen as competent, successful, knowledgeable, cool. Who wants to be ‘broken’?
But let me say it again: we are broken people. We may be broken people trying to hide our brokenness under a veneer of cool sophistication or fantastic success. But when we look in the mirror, we know there’s brokenness there.
Let me talk about how it’s been for me. I spoke four weeks ago about being broken. I said that I had depression, and that I need antidepressants. People were very kind. People were blessed and encouraged by my sharing my weakness. In St Paul’s words, I could say that I was ‘completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church’. My weakness brought a sense of hope, a sense of God’s peace and strengthening to a number of people.
I could have pretended that I am strong. I could have kept on giving the impression I don’t have depression. But then I wouldn’t have been used by the Spirit to bless others.
We share in the work of Christ by being Christ for others. The German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis, once called Jesus ‘the man for others’ (in Letters and Papers from Prison). To be available to others requires a life of spiritual practice. The question for each of us is, ‘Is that the life I live?’
Following the man for others requires that we, like him, are willing to take the path of servanthood for others. God was revealed most fully in Jesus as he hung naked on the cross. He was powerless and vulnerable. He was broken and beautiful. Dietrich Bonhoeffer again once said (once more, in Letters and Papers from Prison), ‘Only a suffering God can help’. In just the same way, I’d like to say that only a friend who is prepared to share our suffering can help.
Few are called to be martyrs for Jesus. But we are all called to suffer. We suffer even as we share the brokenness of others. But as we do, we also see and we share their beauty at the same time. Paul was pretty adventurous to say that he could ‘complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions’. Can we be adventurous? Can we follow the Lord even if that means showing our brokenness? Can we allow our wounds to bless other people?
Who are we? We are the broken Body of Christ. But we are broken to be a blessing. And we are beautiful in our brokenness.
Let us receive what we are.
Let us become what we receive:
The Body of Christ!