And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
I love the phrase he saw the heavens torn apart. Hopefully it reminds us all of the same turn of phrase used at the Crucifixion. “And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Mark 15:38 The first time we hear of something being torn apart it is the heavens and it is this joyful moment of Jesus’ baptism where Jesus is effectively anointed for his mission. But the tearing at the end of the Gospel is the symbolic tearing of the curtain in the temple. Again, God is profoundly at work but this time the imagery is not so much of God in the heavens but present and available to the people of God in the Holy of Holies in the Temple.
But as I hear these two very powerful phrases it resonates with me more now than ever before. As we watched the invasion of Capital Hill in Washington we had a sense of the Fabric of Democracy being torn in two with it’s awful reminder of the late 1930s Germany. And as one listens to news from around the world of the pandemic it feels like the ground on which we stand has been torn in two. Generally, we have been cruising through the pandemic, but this weekend serves as a reminder for us all to be vigilant. If we don’t succeed in keeping this new strain of Covid at bay the feeling of the earth being torn in two may become overwhelming.
Mark’s Gospel has these two moments where the heavens and the curtain are torn. And while both are earth shattering moments they are wonderfully connected with blessing beyond comprehension. Jesus hears the voice of God, you are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased. When the curtain is torn in two, we see God’s presence with us and we hear the Good News of the Empty tomb. So, may be we can hear these stories echoed for us now as we see elements of our society torn in two.
The promise of our own baptism is that we too are made God’s children, beloved of God, and even when we are not at our best somehow God continues to delight in us. May be you don’t think much about your own baptism but it is good to reflect. I certainly only began to appreciate my baptism as an adult. As one reflects with people bringing children for baptism you ponder these things. And I had my first opportunity in my forties to go to the place of my baptism. I was baptised in a church which is now more than 900 years old. Tewksbury Abbey was there and survived the destruction that Henry the 8th brought about. It was there before the split between Catholic and Anglican. It was in a place where the Gospel had been proclaimed and people were baptised even before the split between Orthodox and the western Church. For me it was easy to have a sense of being baptised into a worldwide family that stretches back more than a millennium. Just as Apollos and Paul had preached the Gospel and baptised the new believers the Church continues to do the same with us. And even if we don’t experience anything earth shattering the Holy Spirit descends on us filling us with grace to be able to pray, Abba Father.
So today as we sit at home hopefully in just a short lockdown lets rejoices that even the fabric of our world can be torn in two but we remain God’s beloved children. We can enter into the Holy of Holies with the risen Christ. The light of God shines brightly bring hope, joy and love in spite of profoundly disturbing times. Hold on to the knowledge that God loves you. You are a delight in God’s eyes.
Now our baptism has two sides to it. Not only can we celebrate the promise of God’s enduring love, but we are invited to see others as children of God too. Reading some of the Biblical scholars from the USA I get a sense that it is vitally important for them to remind their people that both republicans and democrats are children of God, Trump supporters and those who wish Trump had died of Covid. Fortunately, here in Australia the political divide is not so marked. Division do exist, I’ll just invite you to reflect on a couple.
Perhaps some may be wondering, when is the next real long weekend? When can we spend time with friends and leave the city to go camping? They might be wondering about Australia Day. With it comes a division in our community. Do we acknowledge the deep pain of invasion or celebrate the birth of a new nation 250 years ago? As baptised Christians we are called to see each other as children of God who like the early church took sides on different understandings. God loves us all. Australia day becomes an opportunity to sit down with those who are different and listen to their perspective, perhaps their deep pain, or their sense of achievement and success.
Again, as we reflect on lockdown and wonder will it just be three days remember another group of people we struggle to see as children of God. We have people detained in this country in lockdown for nearly 8 years now. Their conditions for lockdown are far worse than ours as they can’t go to the shops to buy food that they enjoy. They can’t work from home or study online because they are not allowed to work or study. They are detained because they sort asylum in Australia. Our nation is divided on how we should treat these people. As baptised Christians we are called to see the other as children of God. We are called to sit with and listen to those we disagree with, remembering they like us are children of God.
So, on this forced lockdown where we feel the carpet under our feet has been torn in two, hear the voice of God, you are my beloved child. I trust we will also hear the invitation to see others through the eyes of God, God’s beloved children. How will you live the promise and the invitation this weekend?