Thomas Sunday — and the Resurrection as cosmic Kintsugi

Mug repaired with kintsugi technique
Mug repaired with kintsugi technique

On the Sunday after Pascha, the disciples were gathered again, still trying to process the death and resurrection of Christ.

Thomas, who had missed out on the events of the prior week, was there and asking the kind of questions that many honestly ask to this day: “How can I know that what you (the other disciples) tell me is true? If I don’t have proof for myself, I won’t believe.” The proof he asked for was to touch the scars of Christ.

Now, Christ had overcome death. As the One who promises to “make all things new,” certainly He had the power to make His own body new, to eliminate the scars that marred the “perfection” of His resurrected body.

But He didn’t.

Why?

This morning on the way to church I was listening (yes, listening) to a YouTube video that speaks to this question. The video’s author, Nerdwriter1, often posts about story structure and film. This video, from 2014, slid to the top of my “you might like this” list today, and I do like it.

The title is Kintsugi: The Art of Embracing Damage.

Nerdwriter1 points out that in many television programs and movies, after some shattering trauma, one character says to another, “Why can’t we go back to the way things were?”

He calls that a “red herring of reconciliation.” The character, he says, “wants the bad times to give way to good times but only on the pretense — the false pretense — that the bad times never happened.”

He says:

Trauma can be repressed but it can’t be erased. Lasting reconciliation is achieved by emotional self-awareness, by embracing the change agents of trauma, how they irreversibly reorganize elements of personality, identity, and social reality.

He goes on to describe the Japanese art of kintsugi, literally “golden joinery”— fixing broken pottery with lacquer resin, dusted or mixed with powdered gold.

Kintsugi is an art that recognizes the reality that (Nerdwriter1 again) —

The fractures on a ceramic bowl don’t represent the end of that object’s life, but rather an essential moment in its history. The flaws of its shape aren’t hidden from inspection, but emblazoned with golden significance.

When St. Thomas placed his hands in the wounds of Christ, he didn’t just say, “Wow. That’s amazing.” He said, “My Lord and my God.” In iconography, gold represents royalty and deity. The brokenness of Christ — whatever St. Thomas experienced as he placed his hands in those wounds — communicated royalty and deity.

But how can the perfection of Christ’s resurrected body be communicated through the brokenness of His scars?

The problem lies in our definition of “perfection.” As we ordinarily use the word in English, it means “free of blemishes.” Thus, it has to be youthful. Only the young sapling tree is perfect in that sense. The majestic old tree is scarred and blighted. It has broken limbs, and its rings bear the record of cold and heat and possibly even fire.

The bright spring flower is “perfect,” having no touch of death. “Perfect” is not the fallen fruit with its rotting flesh providing protection and sustenance for the next generation of seeds.

But the Greek word we translate as “perfect” — teleios — means full-grown, complete, mature. Thus when Christ tells us to “be perfect,” he’s not telling us to go backward into a blemish-free, childish innocence, but to go forward through repentance into maturity and completeness.

There is the majestic Douglas fir, with its scars and broken limbs and woodpecker holes. There is the apple rotting in the field. That’s perfect.

As beautiful as a child is, it’s a beauty of potential, not of completion. Maturity comes with scars.

Christ’s resurrection came through the trauma of betrayal, torture, and death. He earned those scars. They are repaired with the gold of royalty and deity. They may be terrifying for us who have not earned our maturity yet.

But they don’t need to be hidden away. They are proof for the doubting and beauty to those with eyes to see.

4 thoughts on “Thomas Sunday — and the Resurrection as cosmic Kintsugi”

  1. Thank-you for this. This is a topic I think of each year. I’m reminded of a couple things.

    The author of Hebrews says that Jesus “was made perfect through what He suffered.” This is, to me, one of several astounding statements in this epistle.

    Matthew Bridges write a hymn, “Crown Him With Many Crowns” with the following stanza:

    Crown Him the Lord of love.
    Behold His hands and side —
    Rich wounds yet visible above
    In beauty glorified!
    No angel in the sky
    Can fully bear that sight
    But downward bends a wond’ring eye
    At mysteries so bright!

    1. Thanks for those references, Tracey. You’re right that it’s not at all an isolated idea in the Scriptures or hymnography.

    1. Thanks, Barb. I love those nurse log photos. The young tree with its roots in the fallen log. It’s easy to forget that the log was once a sapling itself.

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