Good Friday: The curtain tears
Have you ever noticed the first thing that happened when Jesus died?
Mark 15:33-39 and Hebrews 10:19-22
Mark tells us that Jesus ‘breathed his last’ (Mk. 15:37) and ‘the curtain of the temple was torn in two’ (Mark 15:38).
They are depicted as being pretty much simultaneous.
This important detail is included in all three synoptic gospels and was both a powerful miracle and a hugely significant symbolic act.
Way back in Exodus 26 the Israelites are told to build a giant tent (a ‘tabernacle’) which would represent God’s presence on earth.
They are told to make an enormous heavy curtain of colourful yarns and fine linen with pictures of cherubim (guardian angels) woven into the fabric and to hang the curtain on gold hooks.
The purpose of the curtain was to separate the Holy of Holies (‘where God lived’) from everything else.
When the Israelites settled in Jerusalem the Temple took up where the tabernacle had left off. So in the Temple there was a similarly huge curtain protecting God’s presence from ordinary people and ordinary life.
Only one man, the High Priest, was allowed to go behind the curtain to access God’s presence, and even he was only allowed to do so once a year, on the Day of Atonement.
So, when Jesus died, and the curtain was torn in two this represented the fact that suddenly access to God’s presence was open to all people at all times.
I love the fact that an opening wasn’t made in the curtain so people could peer through it. The curtain wasn’t pushed to one side so people could get round it. It was TORN IN TWO.
And don’t miss the detail that it was torn ‘from top to bottom’ – the tearing in half of the dividing curtain started at God’s end.
There are 2 key aspects of this that I’d like you to consider – one thing that had started, and one thing that had stopped.
Firstly, the way to God was now wide open to every person, and secondly the time of God being kept in a separate compartment was now over.
Hebrews 10:20 tells us that Jesus has opened a new and living way ‘through the curtain’, so we can ‘draw near to God’.
Have you done that?
Have you entered into that relationship with God through Jesus Christ that He made possible for you?
If not, you can do so today.
And if you have done so, do you enjoy the incredible privilege of accessing God every day, which High Priests could only have dreamt of?
But also remember that Jesus' death abolished the curtain that separated the ‘sacred’ from the ‘secular’; His death abolished the separation of the holy from the profane, the ‘where God lived’ from the rest of life.
In Christian living we can sometimes separate our life into two compartments; the part that God is interested in and the part He’s not interested in.
Jesus is interested in and involved in every area of our lives, not just the ‘churchy-bits’ or what we think of as ‘the religious parts’.
God wants us to live an integrated life – The Holy Place is now Every Place.
God wants us to access His holiness, and to take His holy influence into the whole of our life and the society around us.
We are not supposed to have a fragile holiness that shrinks back from the challenges of living in a post-Christian society, but to have a robust holiness that positively influences those around us with God’s Kingdom values.
Eugene Peterson tells us that when the curtain was torn in two ‘Jesus didn’t debase the holy into the secular; he infused the secular with the holy’.
Lord Jesus, thank you that by your death I can have direct access into your presence.
Please help me to avoid making prayer a necessary ritual that has to be competed; rather let it be an enjoyment of my relationship with you.
Lord please help me to avoid separating the ‘secular’ from the ‘sacred’ in my life.
Thank you that you are interested in every area of my life, and that there is no area you don’t notice and don’t work in.
Please help me Lord Jesus to live an integrated life, with every area involving you, and reflecting the glory of your Kingdom to those around me. Amen.
Revd Pete Read is Vice Principal at Regents Theological College, and leader of the BA (Hons) in Applied Theology and Church Leadership. Regents is at the heart of the Elim Churches training programmes, and has been releasing people into ministry and mission for over 95 years.
These daily thoughts and responses are part of a series of eight by members of the Regents faculty for Holy Week 2022. They were written with the idea that they can be to used as a personal reflection over Easter, or with home groups, and also as part of a wider church ministry.
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