I love the gospel of St Mark. It is so sudden and concise and sharp. In the short account of the Baptism of Our Lord I like how it says, ‘The heavens were torn open.’ Some translations use the more violent word (which I think is more accurate) that the heavens were ‘ripped open.’
This connects with the death of Christ where Mark also records that the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. The veil was a great curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the inner court. The ancients regarded the sky as a kind of veil that separated heaven and earth, so the two images echo one another. One in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel at our Lord’s baptism, and the other reference at the crucifixion at the end of the gospel. The two images: the heavens being torn open and the veil in the temple being torn in two show that in the manifestation of Christ the barrier between heaven and earth is destroyed and the kingdom of heaven has come to earth.
There is more to it than that: the heavens were the dwelling place of the gods, so when, at the baptism the heavens were ‘torn open’ the whole realm of the gods was being torn open and the old order was being destroyed. The veil of the Temple being torn in two is also a reference to the tearing of Jesus’ body on the cross. God was ‘veiled’ in human form in the person Jesus Christ. His broken body is the entrance into the Holy of Holies–God’s presence.
Finally, the two references to the heavens and the veil being torn open connect us with the two dominical sacraments. Within the sacramental economy, heaven is torn open and we receive the grace of being born again in baptism, and at the sacrifice of the Mass the body of Christ is broken in this present moment and as it is, the veil separating us from God is torn apart and we can enter into the courts of our Redeemer and our King.
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