In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the beginning, the heavens and the earth were united. In the beginning, the heavens were opened, and God was with Man, and Man walked with God in the Garden in the cool of the day. In the beginning when God created all things, and the Spirit of God brooded over the waters of creation, and all things were made through the Word, who would take on flesh. In the beginning when the man and the woman were united, and they were one flesh, and they were naked and unashamed. When they didn’t need to fear that the prayers they cast toward heaven would fall back to earth.
But soon after that beginning, the man and the woman tore apart what God had joined together. There really is no explanation for it. We can talk all we want about free will and choice and the serpent, but none of those are really explanations for sin. What possible explanation could make sense of creatures refusing to be creatures? Or creatures rebelling against the Creator who had made them and given them everything? Or considering equality with God something to be grasped and stolen? There is no explanation, but there it is. Sin tore apart the good creation, death separated them from God. They were no longer naked and unashamed; their shame cut them off not only from God but from each other. They hid from the God who walked with them, and they hid from each other behind flimsy fig leaves. The heavens are closed; Paradise is sealed off.
We’ve been trying to put things back together ever since. With a lot of money, with various forms of government, with utopias of every stripe, with good intentions and pure motives. Witness all the attempts to put an end to war, or terrorism, or destructive habits. Which have worked, even a little bit? It’s sort of like a three year old trying to glue together a broken lamp. Good luck. We can only succeed in more destruction. We tear apart everything, not only in the world, but in our own lives, in our own families, in our own hearts. The only thing left to do is to cry out with Isaiah and all of Israel, “O that You would rend the heavens and come down!” (Isaiah 64:1). Come down and set the mountains smoking and the earth shaking. Come down and do not be angry forever. Come down and rescue us from the creation that we have broken. But when He finally does come down, it’s not with a violent tearing of heaven. It’s not with apocalyptic signs and armies of angels. The only sound of His coming is the cry of a baby in His mother’s arms. Heaven is opened again at Jesus’ baptism. Heaven is torn open at Jesus’ baptism.
Mark is the only one to use that word, for “torn open.” But it’s a fitting word. When God wants to save, He tears things open. When Israel is trapped between the rock of the Red Sea and the hard place of Pharaoh’s army, God tore open the Sea so they could walk through on dry land. At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens are torn open and the Spirit descends to brood over the waters of a new creation, in the form of a dove to mark the end of the flood of sin and death and God’s wrath covering the creation. And the voice of God speaks to this man in the water: “You are My beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.” And the only other time this word is used in Mark’s Gospel is at Jesus’ death, when the curtain in the Temple is torn in two from top to bottom. When God wants to save, He tears things open. When He wants to save you, He tears open the water and plants His Son in the midst of sinners; He tears open heaven to say that this Son pleases Him; He tears open the temple holy place to bring you into His presence. He tears open the Body of His Son with nails and a spear so that you can come in. That tearing of the temple curtain doesn’t mean that there’s no curtain; it means that the curtain by which you enter into the most holy place is not made of cloth any more. Now it’s made of flesh and blood, a physical curtain through which we pass. Jesus’ own body, opened up for sinners. This is how God saves, by tearing things open. And where does He do it for you? In the water. In the water where the Spirit is, and the Son’s blood, and the Father’s voice. There He tears open the water again for you to pass through. There He hides you in the Rock of Ages, who has been cleft for you. There He tears open the ground to bury you, and then tears it open again on the third day to raise you up. This is how God saves.
When we tore ourselves from His gracious hand, Jesus joins man with God in His own body. When we tore off the image of God in favor of the image of Adam, Jesus took on the image of Adam in order to recreate us in His own image. When we tear apart every good gift in God’s creation, Jesus makes peace in His own body, by the blood shed on the cross. Here, at His altar, when we eat the one body and drink from the one cup, He joins us together again in Himself. Here He continues the work He began at your baptism, continuing to tear you from sin and death and join you together with Himself, so that you would be dead to sin, and that your body of sin might be brought to nothing. See, His tearing apart is actually a joining together. His death is life. He has joined you to Himself, so that whatever happens, including death, can never tear you from Him. What God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/9/15