October 4, 2017

Broken Pieces, Henry, and the Holy Spirit

The powerful work of the Holy Spirit in our places of worship is so incredibly gracious through and through and often times surprises us with unexpected glimpses of God’s grace to the people God loves so dearly.

CRASH. It’s an unmistakable sound. One that you hear you immediately cringe. . . . cringe because someone is embarrassed by the far flung, catastrophic mess, and someone else is headed to grab a broom or something to begin the painstaking process of clean up. CRASH. A waiter dropped a tray loaded with plates. CRASH. An overtired toddler at naptime reached a little too high for the colorful serving bowls at Bed Bath and Beyond. CRASH. The first sounds of a car accident. CRASH. That unmistakable sound of breaking glass.

The Trees

At the Washington, DC, Christian Reformed Church, we are in the beginning of a worship series called “Rooted and Established in Love.” It tells the whole gospel narrative through the telling of the stories in the Bible about trees. We began with the “Living Tree” in the Garden of Eden, and end with the “Healing Tree” in Revelation, stopping along the way at places like the burning bush, Zacchaeus’ tree, Isaiah’s flowing descriptions of the tree, the Psalmists book beginning with an exhortation about trees, and of course Calvary’s tree. Two weeks ago, Pastor Meg Jenista kicked off the series in the Garden, preaching about the beauty of creation and human flourishing. We celebrated God’s good work in creating and rejoiced in God’s ongoing providence to care for us and the world. It was such a beautiful start and left the congregation on a tree-induced, CO2 high, thinking about all the goodness God provides and calls us to care for.  

The Terracotta Pot

Then we got to last Sunday, where we walked out of the beauty and straight into the fall. Pastor Meg held up a large terracotta pot at the beginning of the sermon and reminded everyone about everything they heard the previous week—goodness, flourishing, grace. Some people saw it coming, but based on the collective gasp heard from the chairs, most were not expecting it. CRASH. Down came the pot with a sickening, sin-laden thud. Pieces of the pot went everywhere . . . a visual depiction of something that has scattered “far as the curse is found.” Sin. The broken mess of sin literally in shards in front of us.

Earlier in the week, Meg and I “practiced” with two other pots and then broke them into small pieces to hand out. While we heard the story of the fall, of the sin that we lament and confess each week, people turned over these pieces of terracotta in their hands, feeling the brokenness, the rough places, the fragments. The sermon concluded and we took long moments of silent prayer to confess our sins—the individual ones we want to hide, the corporate and systemic ones in which we share and participate by our action and inaction. After a powerful time of prayer, we began what we call “response time.” People were invited forward to place their shards in a basket, laying down their brokenness and their mess, confident that God’s mercy is gracious and always there to heal and redeem.

The Broken Pieces

Henry has been worshipping in our congregation for close to 15 years. Everybody knows him by name and most people (especially the kids!) get a greeting and high five from him each week. Henry lives in an adult group home, is mostly non-verbal, smiles throughout most worship services, follows along in the hymnal and his own personal Bible he brings each week. He has good weeks and not so good weeks, but he is always there, participating and engaging. Henry was particularly agitated during the sermon and it was very clear that something was bothering him. He had his Bible and hymnal, his pencil was sharp for writing, he had his usual stack of papers and blue offering envelopes, so those sitting around him were stumped and unable to calm him down. Then came response time. While the familiar words and tune of “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” filled the sanctuary, people filed towards the front, laying down their broken pieces. And as the front of the church emptied and people returned to their seats, Henry got up from his seat and walked to the front. One by one, broken piece by broken piece, Henry picked up every shard of the broken pot and placed them in the basket. It was one of the most poignant moments in my worship leading ministry that will stay with me for years to come. Henry, gently bending over to clean up the mess, portraying all our sins and brokenness and shame, and putting them right where they belong. Those broken pieces could not remain scattered in the front, our sin could not stay right there, staring us in the face. It all belongs in the proper place . . . the place where God’s abundant grace and mercy reminds us of who we are.

The Holy Spirit

It was one of those moments where I was so keenly aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in our worship. I can plan, and craft, and organize, and do everything in my power to have a smooth running worship service that gives people the opportunity to corporately dialogue with our living God. But the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in our places of worship is so incredibly gracious through and through and often times surprises us with unexpected glimpses of God’s grace to the people God loves so dearly. Praise God the Creator, the giver of all good things. Praise Jesus Christ whose shed blood and gift of grace is worthy of all our praise. Praise the Holy Spirit who is always present in our worship.


Kathryn Ritsema Roelofs is a commissioned pastor in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and serves as a worship specialist with Thrive, a ministry of the CRC. She is also the managing director of the Worship for Workers project through Fuller Seminary.