We lay our broken world

In Church Hymnary 4 there is a lovely hymn (721) by Anna Briggs, entitled, “We lay our broken world” which is also the opening line. The hymn opens with a reflection on the state of our world, and an understanding that we must bring our brokenness to God.

Looking around our present world, it would seem that there is much that is broken: economic uncertainty in the UK because of Brexit, instability in the USA and in North Korea. But looking more closely to our own situations, how often we experience brokenness in our own lives. Working with people for much of my time, I am aware of the common fractures that can occur in people’s family lives and in their relationships with others. When relationships have broken down I am reminded that Jesus came into a home like ours. He knew the loyalties and tensions of family living, he knew the frustrations and fulfilment of a daily task. He offered friendship knowing that it might be a source of healing and courage in difficult times.

The remarkable Dutch lady, Corrie Ten Boom, lost her beloved sister, Betsy, in a Nazi concentration camp during the last war. Her family had harboured Jews in their home in Holland, and the Gestapo exacted a terrible price.

Corrie was spared, and survived the horrors of the awful camp at Ravensbruck. Afterwards she dedicated her life to witnessing to Christ. The lm, The Hiding Place, tells the story of her life. Corrie tells of a moving incident which happened after the war at a testimony meeting in Germany. Having finished speaking to the congregation of the love of God and how he can forgive even our worst sin, she declared, “In fact God takes our sins and casts them into the deepest ocean.” After the service, as people were leaving the church she was approached by a heavy set man in a grey overcoat making his way towards her. Her blood ran cold as she saw him, recognising him as one of her cruel guards from Ravensbruck. He stretched out her hand towards her. “A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea. You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. Well, I was a guard there.” While he did not recognise Corrie, she had never forgotten his face. The man went on, “You know, since that time I have found Christ as my Saviour and I know that he has forgiven me all the terrible things I did. However, I would like to hear you say it too, Fraulein!” Again he extended his hand, “Will you forgive me too?”

Corrie stood looking into the face of her former tormentor, a man responsible for the death of her sister. She recoiled in anger and contempt as memories flooded back. How could she forgive this man? She held her hand back wrestling with contradictions raging in her head and heart. Love and forgiveness had been her message to others. But now it seemed impossible to practise it herself. One of her favourite sayings was: ”Forgiveness is not an emotion; it is an act of the will.” Her emotions having failed her she realised all that remained was her will.

Silently she lifted a prayer heavenward. “Jesus, please help me. I can stretch out my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.” Awkwardly, hesitantly, she reached out her hand. Suddenly her prayer was answered, for immediately, her heart was filled with the love of God for this man. “I forgive you, my brother!” she cried. “With all my heart I forgive you too.”

Brokenness is all around us at times. But maybe when we take that brokenness and share it with Christ it is transformed. Anna Briggs hymn 721 ends with these words:

“Come Spirit, on us breathe,
with life and strength anew;
find in us love, and hope, and trust,
and lift us up to you.”