“The Cross of Broken Pieces”
Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017
David W. Hull, Guest Preacher
Recently Jane and I received a gift from a former church member in Huntsville. The woman had made us a cross, but not just any cross. It is a cross of broken pieces. You see, the First Baptist Church in Huntsville has had for many years a very large tile mosaic on the front of the sanctuary building. Made up of tiles the size of your thumb nail, the mosaic is an impressive piece of art. The primary figure is a 43 foot Jesus who seems to be suspended among the planets of outer space – an appropriate image for the space and rocket city of Huntsville. The only problem is that from the beginning, the mosaic has been losing tiles. They fall off the wall and my friend had collected some of the broken pieces to fashion them into a gift cross for Jane and me. It is a piece of jewelry that we treasure.
But that was not the first cross of broken pieces that we had been given. On June 3, 2007 I was given this cross made of some of the broken tiles from the mosaic. Notice that some of these tiles have already broken off this cross. A young girl named Kristen Daugherty gave me this cross as I baptized her that day. Little did she know the profound meaning of that cross of broken pieces. Only a few hours earlier, at 3:00 a.m. that morning, our phone had rung and we learned that our son, Andrew, had been in a bad car accident in Chattanooga. Only a week after graduating from college, he had been riding in the back seat of a car at a friend’s wedding when the car was run off the road and he was placed in ICU at Erlanger Hospital with head injuries. As I baptized Kristen and preached that morning before racing to Chattanooga, I wondered how broken my son’s body was. Later that week as his right arm became limp and useless, I thought back to all of the images during his life when that strong right arm had been used – sports, guitar playing, carrying things. Over the months of Andrew’s amazing recovery, I held on to that cross of broken pieces as a symbol of the way Jesus takes the broken pieces of our lives and brings healing.
Now, let’s bring it closer to home. There is a cross of broken pieces which has hung on the wall of my study for 25 years. Does this look familiar? It was a gift from my friend Jim Cothran. Jim was a member of the Building Committee when we built the Family Life Center here at First Baptist Church. Some of you may remember that to build that building we had to cut down a tree – not just any tree. It was the one planted by Dr. J. A. Barksdale in 1851 when the original church building was built on this site. Hmmm . . . you can imagine some of the questions involved in cutting down such a tree, even though by 1991 it was diseased and dying. I asked Jim to save the wood from the tree as it was cut down. He took those broken pieces, saved them, dried them, and then fashioned them into the magnificent Celtic cross which still hangs on the stairwell in the Family Life Center. Matching the Celtic cross which the architects had incorporated in the railings and entrance to the new building, this cross became the new symbol/logo for the church. He then took the remaining broken pieces of Dr. Barksdale’s tree and made replica crosses for each member of the Building Committee. It will always hang in my study as a reminder of how the cross takes what is broken and brings reconciliation, hope, and peace.
The Apostle Paul wrote of Jesus and this power of the cross to take broken pieces and make them whole again. We read these words in our text for today:
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20, NRSV)
As we make our final steps on this journey to the cross during Holy Week, what is the good news that we can hear about the cross of broken pieces?
Begin by remembering the story. In that first Week we call Holy, things began to be broken. There were . . .
- The broken expectations of Palm Sunday when the crowds cheered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem expecting him to be a king who would come and “Save Us Now” – which is the meaning of the “Hosannas” which were shouted. When Jesus refused to be this military leader who would conquer the hated Romans, the people who cheered for him on Sunday turned against him by Friday.
- The broken bonds of commitment, as the followers of Jesus fell asleep in the Garden when he needed them to watch and pray with him, and then many of his closest friends were not at the cross to support him in his time of agony.
- The broken hearts of relationships as one of Jesus’ closest friends denied him and another betrayed him before Friday came.
- The broken scales of justice, as a mock trial with the Jewish leaders and with Pilate led to a death sentence.
The broken pieces are scattered throughout Holy Week, and they are all gathered up and nailed to the cross. Of course, the greatest collection of broken pieces nailed to the cross was the entire sin of the world. This Jesus, pure and perfect, took all the brokenness of the world upon himself, and “reconciled to himself all things” – he put the broken pieces back together in such a way on the cross that he was “making peace through the blood of his cross.”
It is staggering to think of our Lord taking all the brokenness and sin of the entire world on himself as he went to the cross. I cannot even comprehend what that must have been like. What is even more staggering, is that he took the brokenness of my sin to the cross. More staggering that considering all the sin of the world is the personal realization that my name was there on the cross. So was yours.
Some of the old painters had a way of illustrating this by putting themselves into their pictures. The Dutch painter Rembrandt painted his own face on the soldier driving the nails through the hands of Jesus.
An old Christian drama depicts a little boy working in his parent’s carpentry shop in first century Jerusalem. He protests his chore, which is to assist in building a cross. The parents insist that he help because Rome has given them a contract for construction of crosses. In another scene the boy is weeping. “What is wrong?” his parents ask. He responds, “I went to the market place & I saw Jesus of Nazareth, the Man we love to hear preach, & He was carrying my cross! They took Him to Golgotha and nailed Him to MY cross.” The parents insist, “Oh no, son, that wasn’t your cross. Other people in Jerusalem build crosses. That wasn’t your cross.” “Oh yes, it was! When you weren’t looking, I carved my name on the cross I was making. When Jesus was carrying His cross, He stumbled right beside me, I looked, and my name was on His cross!”
That’s right – your name is on his cross. And that is the good news. We all have so many broken pieces in our lives. Dreams have been shattered, relationships broken, ideals compromised, hopes detoured, and sin has claimed every one of us. That is the reality of life – but here is the good news of the gospel. Through the cross Jesus has reconciled us to himself so that we can know peace. He has literally taken the broken pieces of our lives to the cross, offered up his life and blood, and offered to put us back together again if we will trust in his love and grace. Paul goes on to describe it like this:
21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him . . . (Colossians 1:21-22, NRSV)
The broken pieces are put together again through the power of the cross what was broken is now beautiful.
That is also the story of the cross. It is the way for us to know peace as the one who gave his life for me took the broken pieces of my life and put them back together again.
The hymn writer Fanny Crosby put the words in such a powerful way:
Down in the human heart,
Crushed by the tempter
Feelings lie buried
That grace can restore
Touched by a loving heart, Wakened by kindness
Chords that are broken
Will vibrate once more.
Rescue the perishing, Care for the dying
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.
That, my friends, is the good news.
My friend from Huntsville recently gave me that cross of broken pieces made from the falling mosaic. The rest of that story is that not long after receiving the cross I lost it. Wanting to use this cross as an illustration today, I turned my study upside down looking for it. I got Jane involved in the search. She went through drawers in case she had placed it out of sight. We could not find the cross. I really was upset – as you can tell these crosses of broken pieces have real symbolic meaning for me.
Then, on Thursday of this week, while working on this sermon, I reached down in my laptop bag in a little pocket – and I felt the rough edges of the broken pieces! The cross that had been lost was now found. I was so excited. When I told Jane she was filled with joy – and she was so relieved because I was the one who had misplaced it, not her!
That can happen to all of us, can’t it? We lose the cross of broken pieces. Maybe we don’t want to be confronted with our own brokenness and sin. Perhaps we don’t want to think much about the cruel suffering of Jesus. Maybe we just get so busy with life, and family, and work that we lose the message of the cross. It is easy to lose the cross in our faith. Don’t you want to find it again?
This Holy Week – keep your eyes open as you make the journey to the cross. Look closely at Jesus, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20, NRSV)
Chords that are broken will vibrate once more. Pieces that are broken will be made whole again in a beautiful way in your life. Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save. That is the power of the cross. And that is the good news for this week that we call Holy.