There are two great rips in Mark’s Gospel. They bookend the ministry of Jesus. The first, which we will hear about in Sunday’s lesson, occurs immediately (get used hearing that word) after Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. The second comes just as Jesus breathes his last breath from the cross. Both are significant, not just because of what is happening in the moment, but because of what they signify in Mark’s larger theological scheme.
As Jesus came up from the water, the heavens were torn apart, and the Spirit descended upon him like a dove. Mark, who is notoriously skimpy on the details, tells us that through the heavens rent asunder, a voice came and declared “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and yet, before he does anything, we already know all we need to know about him. Jesus is the Son of God, beloved of the Father, and his faithfulness even in coming to the moment is well pleasing. What is even more significant in this moment is that in having the heavens torn apart, the veil between humanity and God has forever been removed. In taking on human flesh, Jesus forever altered the landscape of humanity and divinity. As Athanasius said it, “God became man so that man might become God.” It is in this moment that the heavens show what God had done in the Incarnation.
As momentous as this is, another great tearing occurs at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. As he breathes his last, Mark tells us that the Temple Curtain, that which divided the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, was torn in two from top to bottom. While the heavens being torn open is representative of God’s willingness to become human, this tearing open symbolizes our ability to enter into the nearer presence of God. Getting from earth to heaven is impossible on this side of the River Styx, but with the dwelling place of God on earth made accessible trough the death of Jesus, all of humanity can find themselves in the holiness of God. This is, as anyone who has seen Raiders of the Lost Ark can attest, a dangerous thing, and yet God has made it so.
Through the Incarnation of Jesus, God became present to humanity. Through the death of Jesus, humanity can be made present with God. These two great tears forever change the landscape of our relationship with God. No longer does God seem like a far off deity, but rather, God is made fully available to humanity. The fullness of God’s love, God’s grace, and yes, the dangerous stuff of God’s holiness, are open to us through these two rips in the fabric of creation. Thanks be to God.