"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Friday, March 29, 2013

Torn Curtain

What do the words "torn curtain" mean to you? Perhaps they conjure images of some trouble you (or the cat) got into when you were younger. Maybe you remember an old Hitchcock movie by that name. To those of us who know and follow Jesus, the words carry a strong mix of emotions and meanings. Mark's gospel tells the story of what we now call "Good Friday" like this:

At the the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, " Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthoni?"-which means, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah."...

With a loud cry. Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this is the Son of God!"

While this brief and action packed passage is ripe with opportunities and meanings, this Good Friday I want to highlight the torn curtain. In the Jewish Temple, covering the most sacred area known as the "holy of holies", hung a thick curtain. Only the ceremonially clean priests were allowed to enter this area, as they offered temporary atonement for the sins of the people. It is my understanding they tied a cord to one of their ankles so that if they fainted in God's presence, they could be safely pulled out without peril to a non-priest bystander. We have lost sight of the awe of God, throwing around the words "awesome" and "God" as common slang. In those days, the holiness of God was considered serious- dead serious!

The tearing of the curtain at the exact moment of Jesus' death would have caused a Jewish reader of the gospel to gasp in amazement. The passive form of the verb and the complete tearing "in two" from top to bottom mean this event can only be seen as an act of God. The priests would have been, at that very moment, offering the evening sacrifice. The torn curtain was a sign that Jesus death ended the need for repeated sacrifices for sins, opening a new and living way for free and direct access to God (Hebrews 6:19; 9:6-14; 10:19-22).

No longer would people have to rely on another human being as a go-between for them to God. No longer would we need to repeatedly offer animal sacrifices for atonement (payment as a penalty) for our sins in order to be justified (pronounced not guilty) before God. Jesus paid it all. He made all things new.

Usually we think of Good Friday (aka Black Friday) as a melancholy day in contrast to "Easter" Resurrection Sunday. Friday is the day Jesus died. The disciples hopes were dashed. It appeared Satan had defeated him. But see mingled with the dark threads of this tapestry, threads of bright hope: a declaration of faith- "Surely this is the Son of God!" And a torn curtain.


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