The art of compassion: An Easter sermon

There’s a traditional Japanese art form called kintsugi which is used to repair broken pottery. The kintsugi master uses lacquer to reattach the pieces of a broken bowl or teacup, then pours gold to fill in the spaces.

The result is considered to be even more precious and beautiful than the unbroken original. But it will never be the same again. The outline of the pieces will always be visible. You’ll always be able to see that it was broken.

At Easter we celebrate the mending of the whole world, the repair of our own brokenness. This is the essence of our faith: That by his resurrection, Jesus has triumphed over evil forever. Life has conquered death. Our God is making all things new.

I believe this with all my heart. I do.

And yet when I think of our world as it is today, I also struggle to understand.  It’s hard, sometimes, to believe that what we’re witnessing is God’s New Creation, because we live in a world which by all appearances is still broken. Each day’s headlines bring new evidence of that fact.

So maybe you could say we’re being mended kintsugi style. Our broken parts can still be seen, but they’re being patched together with gold so it is beautiful in its own way.

I’m indebted for this idea about the similarity between the art of kintsugi and the character of God’s New Creation to an artist named Makoto Fujimura, who believes that human creativity is our participation in God’s work of making all things new.[i]

Fujimura thinks we’re all artists, called to share in this work by God, our Maker. And through it we participate—we participate—in God’s work of making the world new.

We’re not the creators of this world. God is. But we have a role to play.

And I know you might be thinking, well, I’m not creative, I’m not an artist, so this definitely isn’t about me. But Fujimura’s concept of creativity is bigger than that. To be an artist in his view is to take what God has given us and make something new out of it.

So whether we’re using the minerals of the earth to make paints that will be applied to a canvas, or working with intangibles like the raw material of God’s grace, we’re all makers of something new. We’re artists, or at least we have the potential to be.

And it turns out that there are many, many ways to bring beauty into this world.

So let me give you an example.

There’s an exhibit going on now at the Michener art museum in Doylestown, a photography exhibit titled “Essential Work 2020: A Community Portrait.”

It includes 25 photographs that illustrate the kind of work that’s been important during this past year of covid. And work here—essential work—is very broadly defined. It’s a big, inclusive category—like Fujimura’s concept of what it means to be an artist.  

So there are pictures of people protesting racial injustice, and people growing food to keep us fed, and school children engaged in learning, both remote and in person. There’s a picture of a family just goofing off, enjoying each other’s company.

There are nurses at a hospital observing a moment of silence for George Floyd during the height of the protests last summer. And a sanitation worker, with his mask on, just keeping on with the work of taking our trash away. There’s a grey-haired man and his mother playing music through the open door of their home, for the pleasure of anyone passing by.

I’m a photographer myself, and one of the photos in this exhibit happens to be mine. It’s a picture of people at church. But that’s not the one I want to talk about this morning.

The photo that touched my heart most profoundly shows two people holding hands, and it’s clear that these are old hands. These people are wrapped in white sheets and blankets, and all you can see of them is those hands.

And it turns out that the photo was taken just moments before the man died of covid.

The woman who took the picture is a hospice nurse who was caring for them and also keeping their family connected with what was happening, because the relatives weren’t allowed to go into the nursing facility to be with them.

When the nurse, whose name is Elise, told the family that their father was dying, his daughter asked her to bring this couple together to hold hands one last time. And she did. And she took this picture.

And the photo is a work of art, but honestly, so was her care through this whole time, her care for the older couple and for their family. This is what beauty looks like in God’s New Creation. And it deserves to hang on the wall of a museum. I’d hang it in my church, if I had one.

It illustrates what Fujimura says. He says:

New Creation fills in the cracks and fissures of our broken, splintered lives, and a golden light shines through, even if only for a moment, reminding us of the abundance of the world that God created, and that God is yet to create through us.[ii]

And Fujimura lists three things we can do to prepare for the coming of God’s new world:  “the work of compassion and mercy toward justice, the work of creating beauty, and the act of evangelism to proclaim this Good News of all creation. Mercy and beauty,” he says, “require us to understand that God is gratuitous with grace; evangelism proclaims that reality.”[iii]

This is our call. This is what it means to live the resurrection. To be practitioners of compassion and mercy, understanding that work for justice is God’s work. To create beauty even if only by our way of being in this world. And to proclaim that Good News, the Good News that God’s love and grace are abundant, to proclaim that with our words and with our entire lives.

Using the abundance of what God has given us to make something beautiful: This is resurrection living.

I think this has special relevance as we begin to hope that we’re slowly emerging from this terrible year of covid and civic tension. But through it all this past year has also been shining with its own special beauty, as those photographs remind us.

One thing for sure: God’s New Creation will still bear the wounds and scars of the old world that is passing away. We will be able to see the ways it is still broken.

But we can hope that its beauty will also shine through, the golden light of God’s grace, working through us.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Amen.


[i] Makoto Fujimura. Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, 2020.

[ii] Fujimura, 148.

[iii] Fujimura, 141-142.

Preached for Church of the Ascension in Parkesburg PA.