Yesterday I was listening to Mike Breen, senior guardian of The Order of Mission, reflect on the following observations:
At Jesus’ baptism, there is a tearing of the heavens and a testimony of the Father: the sky – the membrane between heaven and earth – is torn apart by God, and the Spirit of God descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, like Noah’s dove seeking a secure place to land, from which life can begin again; and a voice from heaven gives testimony, declaring “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)
At Jesus’ death there is, again, a tearing and a testimony: the curtain in the temple – the veil between God and people – is torn in two by God; and the centurion at the foot of the cross declares, “Surely this man was a son of the gods.” (Mark 15:37-39)
Moreover, the same process occurs in our lives: if we share in Jesus’ sufferings – a tearing – we shall share in his glory; for the Spirit of God testifies to our spirit that we are sons of God, children of God, co-heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:14-17) The testimony is something about God’s identity, and ours: that we have been invited to share in God’s identity.
This recurring process reveals to us that instead of allowing pain and hurt to be a prompt for unforgiveness or resentment, we ought to look at the torn, hurting places in our lives and ask God to allow them to be the door through which heaven breaks into earth - which is a very similar observation to the one I made in my last post, about allowing our disappointment to be a door through which heaven breaks into earth.
Today is Pentecost, and this morning I read through Acts chapter 2, in terms of tearing and testimony, and of the process by which we can nurture the torn places in our lives as the places where God’s presence can pour in, as opposed to allowing them to become septic.
In summary form, then, tearing and testimony at Pentecost occur:
Tearing of the membrane between heaven and earth: a sound like a violent wind, v2; the disciples being made fun of (publically humiliated), v13; the Spirit of God being poured out, v17, 18; reference to signs and wonders in the heavens, v19, 20; reference to Jesus’ death, v23; Jesus’ ascension and pouring-out of the Holy Spirit, v33; those who heard were cut to the heart, v37. Peter quotes the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32): the verses preceding those he cites refer to God tearing the heavens and the earth (Joel 2:1-11), and then call on those present to respond by rending their hearts, not their garments (i.e. respond by extending the tear internally, not with despair – in the hope that God will pour out blessing in/through that torn place, Joel 2:13, 14).
Testimony: filled with the Holy Spirit, v4; the wonders of God heard declared, v11; the Spirit poured out on all people, sons and daughters prophesying, young seeing visions, old dreaming dreams, v17; the testimony that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, v21; testimony proclaiming forgiveness of sins, v38; the gift of the Holy Spirit, to you, your children, and all those far off v38, 39; unity, favour and growth, v42-47.
The other thing Peter does in Acts 2 is cite king David in Psalm 16, and here we see an insight into nurturing the place where life’s circumstances tear us as the place where God’s presence can pour in. Psalm 16 begins “Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge” – which suggests a tearing – and continues with a testimony, both of who God is and of what he has done in David’s life. Circumstances are not always good, but God is always good, and works to bring about good in all circumstances. So David can testify that in the place of tearing, he is not shaken (Acts 2:25); but rather, the paths of life have been made known to him, and he has been filled with joy in the Lord’s presence (v25-28) - the Lord who Peter identifies as Jesus, the king of the kingdom.
And so the question is this: where are our lives torn? Is it in the hurtful actions of someone else towards you? In the experience, or anticipation, of bereavement? Whatever form it takes, each one of us will know a tearing; indeed, will be torn time and time again throughout our lives.
And, what is our response? Do we ask God to change our circumstances? To stitch the wound together so that it heals completely, leaving only a trace of a scar, a memory of when we were torn? Or will we choose to give thanks – not necessarily for the tear, but despite the tear – and so allow that very place to be the place where God pours through us, and touches the lives of those around us, transforming the world we live in?