It was 2010, and I was pregnant with my first child. We had decided on a home birth, which meant no drugs, no epidural. When the baby finally came, I had been in labor for 50 hours. I was so tired, but so determined that I was going to have this baby right here and now. I pushed for 2 more hours, and then the final thrust. I felt such relief when our child came into the world, and what a joy it was to discover that we had a boy – the one our hearts had longed for!
I was so completely caught up in the moment, holding my son for the first time, looking into his eyes and calming his cries. At first I didn’t notice what was going on around me. The midwife and two assistants were moving quickly, my midwife shouting things to the others, to get it done fast. I had torn badly. Field was a whopping 11 pounds, 4 ounces. I’d sustained a fourth degree tear, which meant I was going to have to go to the hospital right away for surgery.
I was given a few shots to stop the bleeding. My husband and I kissed Field, and left him with the birth assistants to watch him until we got back. With my midwife on one side and my husband on the other, we slowly walked down the stairs to the car.
It took about 30 stitches to sew me back up. In the following year I would see a pelvic-floor therapist, to deal with the damage and trauma caused by the tear. Further complications led to fissures, painful scar tissue, and two additional surgeries. The physical pain caused by the injuries was so horrific at times, that it was all I could do to just curl up in a ball and cry. Sitting became difficult, and in my college teaching job, I struggled to be mentally present.
Within myself I felt that something had irrevocably altered. Yes, I had been initiated into the wonderful world of parenthood – that was obvious. But there was something else stirring – a fire had been stoked, with flames that needed fanning to bring to full blaze. I felt a longing for pieces of a puzzle to fit together; yet the picture it was forming was still unclear.
A fourth degree tear. The one thing I had dreaded before giving birth had now become my reality. I remember learning about it in my birthing class and cringing at the thought, the blood draining from my legs. But here I was, post-birth, literally torn from top to bottom. The scars in my body felt like sharp goads, driving me to God’s Word for comfort. The heart of my Father was calling me to sit and learn from him.
One day as I studied scripture, I came to the verse in Matthew (27:50-55), which says:
“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
I thought about the agony Jesus must have felt as He cried out and breathed his last breath. I remembered the pain I had experienced during labor, and the loud cry I had made as Field finally emerged into the light.
The split-second moment of Jesus’ death set off a cataclysmic chain-reaction: The Jewish temple curtain tore in two, an earthquake rocked the land, and spirits of believers roused from their graves.
But there was something more. I found it in John’s account of the crucifixion, where Jesus’ last words are recorded (John 19:28-30):
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
“Paid in full.” That’s what “It is finished” literally means. The debt of all mankind, the ransom price set on our souls, was met once and for all in the death of the one, truly innocent man. We were unholy sinners, deserving of punishment from a holy God. But he took our place. This passage tells us that right before he died, Jesus knew that he had accomplished the work he came to do. Those words, coupled with his death, signaled the temple curtain to be forever torn.
The temple veil. In the Jewish temple the Sanctuary was composed of an outer area called the “Holy Place,” and an inner area, called the “Most Holy Place.” The two sections were separated by a curtain, several inches thick, so heavy that two horses pulling on either side of it would not have been able to pull it apart. The veil was made of fine linen, probably quilted, in purple, blue and scarlet yarn. Cherubim were embroidered into the fabric: those angels known as the constant ministers before the Presence of the Lord.
In Hebrew the word “veil” refers to a barrier which separates, or hides. What was hidden there from the eyes of the people was the very Presence of the one true, living God, dwelling here on earth. Because holiness is God’s nature, sin cannot stand in his presence and survive. The veil was there to protect the people. Yet how amazing, that God in his greatness would lower himself to dwell in a tent, in order to be close to his people; in order to show them mercy.
The High Priest was the only person permitted to enter the inner sanctuary, and only once a year at that. Anyone else daring to pass the veil would die. On the appointed day – the Day of Atonement, the priest would enter the Most Holy Place, in order to mediate between God and the people. He would bring a blood sacrifice, and ask God’s forgiveness for their sins.
“But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (Hebrews 9:7)
There it hung, separating us from God. The way was shut. It was thick, heavy – impossible. Sin had bolted it, keeping us from the sweet presence of our Maker. But when it tore, it opened the way to the Father.
When it tore. The moment of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was the final verdict: reconciliation with God. Long ago in a garden called Eden, we had once had access to God. But sin had broken and barred that relationship. Now our freedom to know God is restored, in Christ. Yet it will not be fully restored until we dwell in heaven with God and his Son in glory; until this life in all it’s fallenness, passes away.
The word “rent” perfectly describes how I felt after giving birth – as if something within me had been utterly severed. I felt torn. But I knew that with God, nothing is lost (Romans 8:28)
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
I picture Jesus, his arms stretched out in the crucified position, extending love; the world pulling him one way, his Father pulling him the other way. He didn’t come with earthly power, and so the world didn’t recognize him as king. Yet, it was because God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to save us (John 3:16-17).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
I have had a hard recovery. When something is torn in two it never returns to the way it was before. But I take comfort in Jesus’ name “the lamb who was slain.” He bears the marks of his sacrifice forever. It cannot be undone. I made a sacrifice for one person, so that he could have life and come into this world. But Jesus’ sacrifice is for all who put their trust in him, so that they might have eternal life in heaven with him. He is the resurrection and the Life. And the life will live in that country will be glorious indeed.
We all enter this world through the pain and suffering of another, but we are born spiritually and enter fellowship with God through the suffering and sacrifice of Christ. The moment of his death has become the moment of my life.
1. The temple curtain tore in two – Matthew 27:50-55
2. Jesus’ “It is finished” – John 19:28-30
3. Once a year the high priest offered a sacrifice for sin – Hebrews 9:7
4. God works all things together, for the believer’s good – Romans 8:28
5. God sent Jesus to save the world – John 3:16-17