As we enter the passion of Holy Week, the Psalmist reminds us of our true estate: “I have become like a broken vessel” (31: 12b). Acknowledging the real condition of our lives creates an opening for God to do healing work in us, but we find it difficult to deal forthrightly with all that mars the image of God. In a sense, the whole dusty pathway of Lent is learning to tell the truth of our brokenness. Little by little, we dismantle the fortress of self-sufficiency that obscures the woundedness life and sin inflicts, and we confess that our “times” are in God’s hand (v.15).
Biblical spirituality, especially as interpreted by the Eastern Church, is starkly realistic about the brokenness of humanity. Humility is the only proper response to being “confronted with a reality beyond the compass of our limited minds, being put in our place, having our pride and competence challenged, discovering our creatureliness, and the fact that we cannot know God without being disabled, as Jacob was…,” in the words of Frances Young in Brokenness and Blessing. To draw closer to God is to learn of all the ways in which we limp.
Jesus came for those who know their need of a Physician, not those who presume to be whole already. The Eastern Church speaks about salvation as a gradual healing, a life-long work of restoration through death to life. The word “salvation” is derived from the Latin salvus, from which we get the word “salve.” Jeremiah’s lament “is there no balm in Gilead?” (8:22) provides the text for the traditional Negro spiritual, “There is a Balm in Gilead.” The only recourse for a desolate, sin-sick people is the balm God can provide—through forgiveness of a rebellious people, through the reviving power of the Holy Spirit, and through the love of Jesus who died for all.
Brokenness is no barrier to the redemptive work of God; rather, it is the preferred medium used by the One who is making all things new. Through the brokenness of Christ’s body, through his stripes, we are healed. Let us bring the whole of our lives to God as a sacrament of brokenness so that God’s work can be manifest in us.
Molly T. Marshall