In 1998, the Benedictine community at Saint John’s Abbey in Minnesota commissioned the Saint John’s Bible, a contemporary illuminated manuscript of the Scriptures. If you open the bible and turn to Matthew, chapter 5, you will see an artistic rendering of the Beatitudes.
The design is simple and yet profound.
In a column which runs from the top of the page to the bottom are the words of Jesus. They are in brilliant gold. Visually, one sees how, in the beatitudes, Jesus brings a heavenly blessing to earthly life.
Surrounding this column of words, however, is a chaotic cluster of letters. The letters are fragmented, found in assorted colors, facing different directions, and forming the beginning of broken words.
In this visual depiction of the beatitudes, you see blessed brokenness. The words of Jesus shine with a graceful brilliance among the broken fragments of this world.
What we see in this artistic rendering of the Saint John’s Bible is what Jesus does both in our Gospel reading and in our lives today. He blesses brokenness.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus sits on a mountain with crowds gathered around him. Now is not a time for healing, not a time for action, but a time for teaching. His teaching begins in blessing. When Jesus speaks, He continues a conversation begun in the heart of His Father, a heart overflowing with steadfast love. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says, “for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven... blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted... blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied.”
His words strike us as strange, odd. In some of our congregations, we have believed the lie that only holy people go to church, not sinners. As we gather around the fellowship hall for coffee and donuts, we do not talk about how much we hunger and thirst for righteousness, how poor our spirit is, or how much we are mourning. Instead, we try to have polite conversation which display how well our life fits into the Kingdom of God. Even people out in the world have overheard our conversations. It is what makes them nervous to step foot in the Church. As a friend once told me, “I’ve got to clean up my act before I go to church.”
Yet, Jesus begins His sermon on the mount in a different way. He pours God’s blessing into brokenness. New life does not begin with you, it begins with God.
New life does not begin with you, it begins with God.
I once had a plastic watering can that was broken. The plastic was old, and the seam was splitting where it had been dropped on the ground one too many times. One day, I filled it with water. Since I knew it would leak, I filled it to the top and walked across the yard to the flower beds. As I walked, I made a mess, water was going everywhere. Life-giving water was spilling out all over the place from my broken watering can.
Jesus knows the power of blessed brokenness. In His broken body is the love that forgives our sins. In His gracious claim of us is His ability not only to rule over but also to rule through all things.
When God brings someone who is broken into the Kingdom, amazing things happen. Like that broken watering can, our lives begin to pour out His blessing. Not just in the ways our pious brothers and sisters in Christ think proper but also in the ways which reveal what a wreck we are and what a lost cause we would have been... had God not come into our brokenness and blessed us with His grace.
I remember a young man who had stopped going to church during college. It was not until years later, after he had bottomed out in alcoholism, lost his job, and lost his live-in girlfriend, that he started to come back to church. Whenever he talked about how blessed he was, he would begin to share parts of his story and you could see the tension on people’s faces. They did not know where to look. It was hard to hear about his life experiences. His story certainly was not polite coffee-hour talk. Yet, God’s blessing was dripping out of all of the wrong places in his life. Over time, I watched as that blessing ended up landing in the lives of people who would never see themselves coming to church.
In the illumination of the beatitudes in Saint John’s Bible, there is one detail you notice upon closer inspection. There are small gold squares in between the letters of the beatitudes and also in the colorful chaos of the broken words. The first time a reader of this bible encounters these squares is in the illumination of creation. There the golden squares are grounded in and flow from the rest on the seventh day. The blessing of Jesus upon our brokenness is a promise of that gracious rest we will have on the final day.
All Saints Day is our opportunity to look more closely at the lives of God’s people and to share more richly the blessings of God in our lives. Such blessings are not just the gift of faithful families and pious vocations but also those days when we are poor in spirit, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, struggling to make peace, and mourning our loss. Within these moments there is a blessed brokenness. All Saints Day is our opportunity to remember not just the good moments in the life of God’s people, but all moments of their lives, trusting God is there in the midst of brokenness bringing blessings which flow into the lives of others.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 5:1-12.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 5:1-12.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 5:1-12.