This time through this familiar story, I find that I am really caught by Jesus telling the disciples to ‘gather up the fragments’ after so many had been fed with a boy’s lunch. Indeed, my imagination deepens when I look more closely at the translation, realizing that these ‘fragments’ are also often described as ‘broken pieces.’
And yes, I am really taken by the fact that in John’s telling, there were twelve baskets full left over and how that in itself is a sign of the fullness of the very reign of God.
I mean, just think of what God is able to do with the left overs, the overlooked, the cast aside, the ‘broken pieces.’
Especially now, perhaps, as we live in a time when we may find ourselves considering the world, our ministries, ourselves with eyes and hearts whose parameters may be that much smaller given all we have been through. Just think of how this image opens things up for us. For just imagine what God can surely do, what God always does with all of our own ‘broken pieces’ to point us to the fullness of God.
It’s a small thing, one might think, although not so small to those who receive the gift of this, but week after week in the congregation I serve, (and what joy it is to witness this again): people gather around tables and at sewing machines for one purpose: to cut and assemble, to sew and to tie together the ‘broken pieces,’ fragments of discarded fabric, which come together to make hundreds of quilts every year. Eventually, they are boxed up and delivered to remote places, to suffering people who have been forced from their homes by poverty, by war, by disease and who have so little now to call their own, but now have this gift, to help provide warmth, comfort, perhaps even shelter. I cannot help but believe that this, at least, begins to point to the fullness of God. Indeed, this concrete image, along with that of twelve baskets of bread ‘left over’ are carrying me forward now as we wonder at what God will do with the brokenness in which many stand today. (The image here was captured in 2018, but you get the picture!)
But maybe you think I am extreme in this? Perhaps a bit too negative? And maybe I am. And yet, all around me as I listen deeply to the struggles of those among whom I serve, I recognize that in many ways we do find ourselves now standing in the midst of ‘broken pieces.’ For surely this journey through a pandemic has left a large number of us different from who we were before, broken even, or perhaps at least battered by:
- Deaths of dear ones, from the virus or not;
- Marriages which may have been struggling anyway, but which could not, did not survive;
- Other relationships whose tiny fissures have torn wide open in the stress of this time;
- Or simply ways of seeing and experiencing the world which are altered now even though things may appear more and more normal from the outside looking in.
Oh, I am wondering now what God will do with all these ‘broken pieces,’ with all these left over things from a world we once knew but may no longer quite recognize.
And yet, for now, all we may yet have are those ‘broken pieces.’ In fact, I am realizing again that in our Gospel this week there is no mention of what will happen next with the abundance of fragments of bread which even now before they have a chance of becoming anything else, already point to the fullness which God intends. By the fact that there is so much, yes. But also, as we have seen before, in the very significance of the number twelve in so many other stories of how God is at work in the world bringing wholeness. (Consider again the recently shared stories of the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years and the twelve year old daughter of Jairus who was healed in Mark 5:21-43, not to mention all the other times we hear the number twelve in the Biblical witness. )
And yet, that is the difference between fragments of bread and the broken places and broken people we stand in and among, isn’t it?
For bread is made to be broken, isn’t it?
Not so with human lives.
At the same time, if human hearts do not have the capacity to be broken or ‘broken open,’ like the very bread before us now, what good are we?
For isn’t this almost always the way of it among us? Those whose hearts have been broken and perhaps have been able to accept the invitation to allow ourselves to stand still in and experience that brokenness somehow have a greater chance of our hearts being truly open to the pain of the world. And maybe that is how God starts putting it all back together into something new. And useful, perhaps. And surely always beautiful.
For this is so: for me at least, lots of hours now are spent witnessing these ‘broken pieces’ as I receive and hold for a time the stories of many. And yes, my heart breaks a little with them and for them. And surely this as well: as I, as we, live fully in the experiences of our own lives, it is the same. Our hearts do sometimes break. And yet, we have experienced this as well, that such brokenness acknowledged and experienced can somehow lead to wholeness for others with whom we are then able to stand more fully.
And of course there is this wondrous truth:
- The same word we hear for ‘broken pieces of bread’ is the same word used for breaking the bread in the Biblical witness whenever we hear about Jesus at the table with his disciples.
- The same word is ours as we repeat the words, “This is the body of Christ broken for you.”
- And yes, this is the image we do hold: that of the body of Christ on the cross whose brokenness led to the promise of wholeness for all of this too much broken world, and all these broken lives, and all these broken hearts.
I cannot explain how this is so. I can only point to it. Give thanks for it. Celebrate it as I recognize its truth among us and for us all.
- For when we stand still in the brokenness, holding high twelve baskets full of broken loaves of bread, taking in again the image of a broken body on a cross, we do meet Jesus there, don’t we?
- And might that possibly be the beginning of wholeness even before anything else happens? Even if it doesn’t yet seem like it?
Thank goodness that from time to time, as we are so blessed, we do get to see those broken pieces coming together to form something new. And perhaps useful. And always beautiful. Like those fragments of cloth becoming ‘whole’ again for shelter and warmth: physical signs of love for people in this world who may just need them most of all. It is but a small example, of course, but it does speak to me of the truth that by God’s work and God’s will, what is broken can surely bring wholeness in God’s good time. As I said above, this promise carries me through the times when it only seems broken. Times like the ones many are experiencing now.
- When you hear that there were twelve baskets full of fragments of bread left over, how does this speak to you? Do you see the abundance? Do you also see the ‘broken pieces’ which together make up that abundance?
- What examples would you offer of times and places where from the ‘broken pieces’ God creates beauty?
- Is it so for you that the wholeness actually begins in standing still in, acknowledging the brokenness? How are you able to capture this truth in words?