Apr. 3, 2012
It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
When I was about 9, my Mom taught me how to sew. I started with lines on pieces of paper and no thread in the sewing machine needle, practicing stitching. Eventually, I cut out a pattern and began to sew together pieces of fabric to make a hanger cover, a pair of shorts and eventually many other pieces.
For years, I loved going to the fabric store and looking at fabric. I loved to touch and feel the various textures and weights. I learned that cotton feels very different from polyester which feels very different from gingham and so forth.
Selecting fabric for my next project was a big deal. Once I committed and the fabric was cut, there was no turning back. I would take the bolt of fabric to the cutting table, let the employee know how much I needed and watch her carefully measure it. I could tell which people had a lot of experience cutting fabric and sewing. The ones who most impressed me where the ladies who could make a little cut at the appropriate place and then tear the rest of the fabric with their hands. It took experience and skill to be able to do this. Believe me … I tried it at home many times before I was able to tear fabric this way.
The Jewish people worshiped God at the Temple. It was about a 10 minute walk from the crucifixion site. There are many special places within the Temple yet the inner court is reserved just for priests. Only priests could enter this area and offer incense at the altar. The Holy of Holies was the most sacred area of the Temple. Here, the Ark of the Covenant was stored, which housed the Ten Commandments, as well as a jar of manna which the Israelites ate for 40 years in the wilderness and Moses’ staff.
Once a year, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and offered a sacrifice for the Jewish people. After slaughtering an animal, he offered the blood to God to make amends for his sins and the sins of the people.
A think purple curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the inner court. This is the curtain that was torn at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. This is a powerful image because it represents Jesus’ blood now atoning for all of our sins. With the torn curtain, God is approachable by all people. Because of what Jesus has done on the cross, access to God is available for everyone. A curtain is no longer necessary. We can now approach God all by ourselves. We can go directly to Jesus as our High Priest and he reconciles us to God, once and for all. We can no longer hide behind someone else’s inadequacies to approach God. Jesus makes God approachable for everyone.
This seemingly small detail is more than a tear of material. It’s a redefining of God’s relationship with humanity. As perfectly human and perfectly divine, Jesus becomes the only necessary high priest. When the wise men brought frankincense to Bethlehem, it seemed strange. But their gift is no longer a mystery because Jesus becomes the priest of all priests. He makes God completely accessible for you. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: The veil is rent; in Christ alone the living way to heaven is seen; the middle wall is broken down, and all the world may enter in. Amen.