Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized. Mark’s gospel tells us that as he was coming up out of the water “he saw the heavens torn apart and the spirit descended on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”
The heavens are torn apart when Jesus comes up out of the water. Mark was very intentional about using this word. It’s the word that Isaiah used when he was living in exile and cried out, asking God to “tear open the heavens and come down.” Mark chooses this same powerful word to describe the tearing open of the heavens at Jesus’ baptism. And he uses it only one other time in his gospel. We read it again at the very end of Jesus’ life when the curtain to the temple is torn apart, from top to bottom.
It’s a word that packs a wallop. The torn apart place is the place with the jagged edges that can never be closed again. And it’s the place where God comes through.
I don’t know about you, but when I experience a torn place in my life, my natural inclination is to do everything I can to repair the tear. I want to fix it so that everything goes back to the way it was before. But there are some problems with that. For starters, it doesn’t work. Once the place has been torn, it will never be the same again no matter how hard I try to make it not so. And then, while I’m working so hard to fix the tear, I miss the voice of God speaking to me through the torn place.
Many of you know that over the past year I’ve been struggling with some kind of illness that seems to defy diagnosis. It’s one of those things that isn’t going to kill me, but it’s really changed the way I live my life. Mostly I have heaviness and burning pain in my arms and legs. Some days are better than others, but it’s greatly affected my energy and stamina. One of the things I love to do is contradance, which is a high energy activity. And I can’t dance every dance for two or three hours the way I did a year and a half ago. But then, I can’t really do a whole lot the way I did a year and a half ago.
Now when this happened, I spent a lot of time going from specialist to specialist trying to find a cause. I figured that if I could find out what was causing this, then I could fix it and return to my normal life as if it had never happened. That's the way illness has always worked in my life in the past. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that that isn’t going to happen this time. I can do some things to make this condition more manageable, but it’s not going to go away. My life has been torn apart and it isn’t going to go back to the way it was.
Our lives can be torn apart in so many ways. Through the death of someone you thought would always be there. Through the loss of a job that you were counting on to see you through until retirement. Through a broken relationship that you thought would last the rest of your life. All of a sudden, your life is torn apart. It will never be the same again. It’s a shock to the system and not something we welcome. But it seems to happen to all of us sooner or later, in big or small ways. There are torn places in our lives.
And here’s the thing. Those torn places in our lives give God access to us. When our lives are torn apart, God speaks to us, reminding us of who and whose we are. I suspect that God is reminding us of that all along, but when we’re in a torn place, we’re ready to hear it: “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.”