I began playing violin at age eleven, and since we already owned it, I began my musical training with my mother’s old violin. Now, the age of a violin is not like the age of a car where the longer it’s been around, the worse it gets; rather, like a bottle of wine, a violin’s sound matures, deepens, and strengthens as it is played decade after decade. In those first few months, the voice of my mother’s violin, evoked as my tender hands sawed and screeched away, was a sound of delight and wonder to my tender ears. And as young boys tend to derive their self-worth from their toys (and later from their tools), I was rather proud of that instrument: its sound and appearance far excelled any instrument that my peers were playing at the time. This state of genuine felicity continued along excellently until my own hand brought it suddenly to a swift conclusion.
At the time of the disaster, I was twelve years old. It was November, and the day was cold and gray (as I remember it now). I was at orchestra rehearsal in the music classroom of Test Middle School, and we were in the process of having Mr. Burkhardt tune our instruments to begin practicing the exercises and pieces of the day. As I was exuberantly hustling down the concrete steps of the amphitheater-shaped room suddenly, in an instant, my maternal patrimony slipped out of my hands and crashed lifeless to the ground. The noisy room ground to a halt upon hearing the heart ripping crack that still reverberated, if not audibly, palpably in my own stomach. Mr. Burkhardt and I began to assess the damage, and I tried to delay my sense of hysteria until my mother came to pick me up.
The damage was extensive. A single long fracture had appeared along the face of the violin, originating on the edge nearest the chinrest and extending close to the whole length of the body. This fracture was accompanied by half-a-dozen other fissures parallel to it along the face, blending in with the fine, radiant grain of the wood. Then, along the side of the violin at the principal site of impact, the wooded ribbing was fragmented, and jagged cracks wound their way around the side of the violin, almost as if my chin had suddenly acquired super-human strength and crushed the thing in mid-performance. The damage, I said, was extensive: it would be better to say that the damage was total and, as I found out in the months ahead, irreparable.
As we talked with craftsman after craftsman about repairing my mother’s violin, I had at that age very little sense of cost or price or monetary value. I knew that the numbers in the air were, for lack of a better word, big. But what drove my soul into the ground every time I heard it was the verdict that every artisan gave us: even if my mother’s violin were repaired, it would never sound the same again. The violin I had known and loved for over a year had died that bitter November day, and I mourned the voice of creative beauty that would never, ever, sound again.
As I write, it is Holy Saturday, a Sabbath rest suspended in a sense between Good Friday and the Paschal Feast of the Resurrection. Yesterday in a naked church and in jet-black clothes, the existentially charged emotions that I carried, and in a sense still carry with respect to my mother’s violin, welled up inside of me. And I asked, as you well might, for what reason would these things have come to mind and found relevance on that day which is different from all other days?
I sense that, in some small yet personally vital way, the rupture of that musical instrument reflects the rupture in God’s creation that came at the moment of Adam’s first sin when, in that Garden and at the foot of that Tree, in him we all died. We so often make so little of sin, and yet his sin and our sin has brought a brokenness to all creation and to our own lives that, from our own sincere vantage point, is as irreparable as my mother’s violin. We can try to make repairs and smooth things over and grab a bow and saw away, but the fact remains: the Original Beauty and Perfection has disappeared forever.
And all our blithering mess seems to come to bear on Jesus at that moment when, alone in the Garden and lifted up on that Tree, he was silenced by death as well. On the cross God the Son, who had assumed our nature and flesh in all that these entail, was broken by our brokenness and extinguished in what is, in this world, an irreversible and irrevocable condition. And we can take down his body, we can wash off his blood, we can bind him and spice him and give him all the honors of a rich man’s burial. But when he gathered up the strength to shout out his last expiration, “It is finished,” he was dead and gone as much if not more so than the corpse of my mother’s violin. On the cross, the tragedy of death has worked its worst and greatest triumph in swallowing up the Person through whom and for whom all Beauty and Perfection in this world exist.
And this, I think, is why I remembered and again felt so acutely yesterday, on Good Friday, the pain and loss of that dear fiddle. Yet thankfully, this is where the parallel ends. My parents resolved my pain months later when they purchased me a fantastic new violin, a violin that to this day I responsibly still call my own. But God does not so much replace as Restore, does not so much create again as Recreate. And on the third day, God began the Great Reparation, the Regeneration, the Resurrection from the dead, as he raised his eternal Son, the last Adam, Jesus Christ our Lord from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. What is for man impossible, for God is not only possible but has actually happened and still actually happens and will again happen for all time when that Firstborn and Firstfruits from among the dead returns to transform us and with us all of Heaven and Earth from glory into glory.
But I have already written much, bared much really, and this is now a theme that will be taken up better in church tomorrow, and in the Sundays ahead. I leave you with his blessing, the blessing of the One who was dead, and behold, who is alive forevermore. Amen.