The Saturday before my colleague's last Sunday in worship, my husband and I decided to do something special. It might be my last unoccupied Saturday for awhile, we reasoned, so we called and got tickets to the special exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota, "Words That Changed the World."
It's an exhibit about the Dead Sea Scrolls, the most important archeological discovery of the 20th century. And the day was over-flowing with historical and geographical information -- we learned about all of the theories concerning the community of Qumran and its library; we learned about the different religious factions of the day and what life was like. We learned about the painstaking processes of translation and preservation, and about the sheer quantities of scrolls found there.
Then, at the end of the exhibit, we were ushered into a dark room. In the dark room were just a few fragments of actual scrolls. Just a fragment of a Psalm, a portion of Song of Solomon. Looking at the papyri, it was hard to figure out just how they could tell what the words even were. And, I'll be truthful, it almost seemed a little anti-climactic. These small, fragile pieces of paper, barely decipherable, were words that changed the world?
And yet, these words were 2,000 years old. It was a miracle that they even survived, even these fragments. They were pieces of evidence of early Jewish and Christian communities, giving us a glimpse of the age that Jesus lived in, the age of the early church.
Sometimes I think of the church this way, too. Looking at us, each of us individual disciples of Jesus in the world, I think that we are not always so impressive. On the contrary, we are fragile, just small fragments of the church. Looking at us, it's a wonder that the church has survived so long. It must be a miracle of God that built a church using people like you and me.
And yet, somehow, despite our fragility, despite our failure, despite all that blows away, the fragments of our lives tell the story of God's fierce love and goodness for all the world. Someday we will see the whole story clear in the bright light, but for now, we see only fragments, fragments illumined in the light of a cross.