The birthday of the King is in our rearview mirror now. Of course I’m talking about The King Of Rock And Roll, Elvis’ 80th birthday -which, I’m sure you all celebrated last Thursday. I myself preferred him in his later years, when he had put on the extra pounds and wore all those fabulous outfits. If you watch his Vegas Comeback Tour, you’ll see that signature white jumpsuit as he sings “Suspicious Minds.” And he can still gyrate like nobody else.
We do actually move in our church year pretty rapidly from the birth of the other King, celebrated at Christmas. We go quickly from baby Jesus to the adult ministry of Jesus. Today is the day when we read about the baptism of Jesus – the official beginning of his ministry.
We do a lot of baptisms at Christ Church. Every baptism is a special and wonderful event. We’ve got one this morning. Yet none so far have had the audio – visual fanfare that accompanied Jesus’ baptism. As Jesus is baptized by his cousin John in the River Jordan, the heavens are torn apart, the Holy Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove, and God says, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”
Pretty dramatic, but, in fact, there is no indication in Mark that anyone else other than Jesus actually hears or sees anything. It is as though God the Father is speaking intimately and directly to His Son. He is preparing Him for all that is to come.
And Mark uses the interesting word, “torn apart”. The heavens were “torn apart”, rather than “opened” as in Matthew and Luke. The Greek word there is a form of the verb schitzo as in schism or schizophrenia. It is not the same word as open. You open the door. You close the door. The door looks the same, but something torn apart is not easily closed again. Tear apart the fabric of a shirt or glossy print of a photograph. The ragged edges never go back together as they were.
The handle of my favorite coffee mug broke off in the dishwasher the other day. It was a gift from my daughter when she was little – she painted and glazed it. The break was fairly clean, so I got some Gorilla Glue and put it back together. But a tiny piece is still missing and I’m worried that it will collapse again and I’ll spill hot coffee all over my lap. But I take the risk because I want the ragged edges to go back together as they were. But, they never do.
You have experienced, and perhaps are now experiencing, some kind of tearing apart in your life. We’ve had 3 funerals here at Christ Church in the last 2 weeks. Death tears apart a family. Someone’s absence means that the edges of family life can never go back together again as they were.
Of course it doesn’t take anything as traumatic as death to tear apart a life. Even happy events, like a child graduating or getting married tear apart how things are. There is always some kind of tearing apart that is happening; entropy is always at work in life. Mugs break. People leave. Life changes. Edges no longer fit together as they once did.
The good news is that the torn open places are not all bad news. In fact, the torn open place in the heavens at Jesus’ baptism is where God comes in. The Spirit descended like a dove through the torn open place. God spoke His words of loving assurance – you are my Son, with whom I am well pleased – through the torn open place. The fact that everything won’t be the same can be a very good thing. God is in the torn open places.
Leonard Cohen sings about this in his song called “Anthem.” He sings, “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
God’s light shines through the cracks that are in you and me. Yes, our lives are cracked. Yes, everything is cracked. And yes, that is how the light gets in. The movie, “Wild” has just been released. It’s based on book by Cheryl Strayed, who tells the story of her life being torn open.
Her mother dies of cancer at 45 years old; Cheryl is in her early 20’s. At first, through the enormous crack in her life comes not light, but chaos and darkness. In order to numb her pain, she turns to sex – random hook-up after random hook-up, even though she is married to a faithful husband. She also starts using heroin, telling her counselor that sex and heroin were the only things that made her feel any better about the torn open place in her life.
Strayed decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail in order to deal with her pain. Although she’s an inexperienced hiker, she makes the 1100 – mile journey alone. Although there is no positive mention of God, the book/movie is not as self-helpy as one might expect. In fact, at the end of her hike, having delved deeply into her grief, having lived inside the torn open place, she asks,
“What if I forgave myself? What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
I suspect that Strayed may be underestimating the cost of her destructive response to her pain – the cost on herself, and her ex-husband, and those around her. But I do think she’s on to something. God does use all things to work together for good. And the crack in all things, the torn openness of all things, is the doorway of his light. And she’s right in asking her final question – “What if I already was redeemed?”
The great hope and comfort of the gospel is that we are already redeemed. We know this because of another tearing apart. It happened 3 years after the heavens were torn apart and Jesus came up dripping out of the baptismal waters, hearing a voice saying, “You are my beloved Son.” This time he hung on a cross, his hands and feet and brow torn apart by nails and thorns.
The scripture tells us that as Jesus was crucified for us, the curtain of the temple was torn apart. This was the barrier between heaven and earth, between God and humanity. Up till now, only the high priest could go behind that veil into the holy of holies, into God’s presence.
But when Jesus died, the scripture says, “behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” This time, in the tearing apart, “there was no voice from the darkened heavens that day. God was silent, not even a whisper. But there was a voice not far off but close. Not up but down. A centurion soldier stood at the foot of the cross keeping order, marking time, waiting to pronounce death. When he saw that Jesus had breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son.” (The Rev’d Dr. Barbara Lundblad)
The curtain was torn apart so that you and I could enter into the loving, healing, redeeming presence of God. And never again will that curtain fit together as it once did. Through the crack in the curtain God’s light shines through. It will never, ever stop shining, no matter what in your life is torn apart. You are already redeemed.