If you've been at services this Lent, you've noticed the black shredded banner we have been carrying in and out. This banner was created at the Ash Wednesday service, during a liturgical piece called "The Rending of the Cloth."
I wrote this liturgy one year, after an inspiration about Good Friday. In the Old Testament, mourning and grief are practiced in three particular ways: wearing sackcloth (a practice related to the European-American tradition of wearing widow's weeds), marking oneself with ashes, and rending, or tearing, one's clothes.
In our liturgy on Ash Wednesday, we read stories of those in the Bible who mourned in this way. This led to stories from our own world of suffering and grief, which this year included the Ebola outbreak and a village forced to flee from ISIS. We read how, at Jesus' trial, the High Priest feigned his grief over Jesus' actions, and ordered him to death. After each of these readings, we tore one of the strips in our banner: a sign of our own sorrow.
Finally, we read the story of the crucifixion. On the day we remember each Good Friday, as Jesus hung dying upon the cross, we read that darkness covered the earth. When he cried out and breathed his last, it says: "the curtain in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom." Could the darkness be God's mourning black, and the ashes of sorrow? Could the rending of that curtain be the ritual tearing of God's own clothes, such as she had? If ever there was a time for grieving, it was this.
The traditional understanding of this passage fits in beautifully with this idea. Most commentaries will tell you that the rending of the curtain is the inbreaking of the Kingdom: God will no longer be withheld or hidden from us behind a veil. But the parable of the vineyard (Mark 12:1-9) also reminds us that when God comes, it is in anger and heartbreak at what we have done to God's only son. We are blessed to have access, once forbidden to us behind a curtain; but it is grief which removes the scrim, and lays our sin bare before us. The garments are rent; we, too, are exposed. Thanks be to God for God's mercy, compassion, and love.