GRT How Shall we Mend it
How Shall We Mend It My Dear?
With just the hint of spring in the air, and green shoots poking through the earth, I am reminded of one of the most beautiful places I know. It is that part of Suffolk where the river Stour winds its way gently through a patchwork of fields and ancient hedgerows, past quiet mills and centuries-old churches, and which was immortalized by the painter John Constable. His oldest son, in his diaries, talks about his father with great affection, and describes his two great passions in life, painting and his children. He loved nothing better than to spend whole days out sketching in the Suffolk countryside, with his children playing by his side, and then in the evening at home to paint the final canvas in his studio, again with his children nearby.
The diaries describe one notable day when there was to be an exhibition of new works, and critics travelled to Suffolk, full of anticipation to see Constable’s latest paintings, and in particular one which was to be unveiled before them that day. The moment came, and Constable walked up to his canvas, preparing to draw back the curtain to reveal it. As he did so there was utter silence, and then some embarrassment, because right across the canvas, from top to bottom, there was a great tear.
Eventually everyone left, leaving Constable and his family alone, and wondering about the torn canvas. One of his children, however, was missing. It was his oldest son, and eventually he did come home, and his father asked him, “Did you do this?” And his son answered, “Yes.” I wonder what your father would have said to you in these circumstances? But the diaries record that Constable spoke these gracious words to his son, which he remembered all his life: “How shall we mend it, my dear?”
Our world is a beautiful place. God has painted a beautiful canvas for us to live in, and yet we know that we have torn the canvas apart. Our greed has plundered lie land, polluted the earth, and made millions live lives of squalor and misery. Our sin has scarred our relationships with each other, broken up families, divided people of different cultures and beliefs, and filled us with fear and prejudice. Our world is torn and divided violently at every level. This terrible process is described in the New Testament as the work of the devil, and the Greek word used for devil, diabolos, literally means one who throws apart. The work of diabolos is essentially to divide and break or throw apart.
John Constable’s son expected and deserved punishment, and we all deserve I punishment for tearing apart God’s creation. But Constable’s father instead spoke those gracious words, “How shall we mend it, my dear?” And God, instead of punishing us, so loved us that he sent his son Jesus into the world to save us from tearing ourselves apart. “For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)
In a few days time we begin Holy Week, and we shall again be contemplating the events of our salvation. In our Gospel this evening, Jesus is in an angry exchange with the Jewish leaders, pointing to their hypocrisy, and their lack of mercy and compassion. Yet at the same time he points to the means of their salvation: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he.” (John 8:38) For if the work of diabolos is to break up and throw apart, then the work of Christ is to reconcile. When he was lifted up on the Cross with his arms outstretched, he was mending a broken world, bringing God and humankind together again. In Paul’s words, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)
In baptism, each of us shares in Christ’s death and resurrection; we died to sin and to the power of diabolos, and rose to new life in the power of the Spirit. And our work, our task, is to mend. Christianity is all about mending, or as Paul puts it more theologically, “God has given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18) Our baptismal covenant calls us to be menders; to mend our relationship with God, mend our relationship with each other, and to share with God the task of mending the torn canvas of a broken world.
So as we approach another Holy Week, how are you doing with the job of mending? What are your gifts for the ministry of reconciliation to which you have been called through baptism? How are you now, today, working with God to mend God’s damaged world? And what about in your personal life? Where do you experience brokenness, torn relationships with others, brokenness and division within yourself? Where do you feel most vulnerable to the power of diabolos? When and where do you give in? Where do you most need to be healed and made whole?
Perhaps this evening, when you come to receive the sacrament, bring these things to God: your need to be healed, to be mended, to be made whole. Recommit yourself to work with God in the ministry of reconciliation, to heal a torn and broken world
“How shall we mend it, my dear?”