The Torn Curtain
At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
The temple in Jerusalem was not one, large, open structure, but rather a series of nested courts. At the core was the temple itself, which included the holy place (sanctuary) and the “holy of holies.” This innermost space was believed to be the dwelling place of God. The only human being permitted to enter the “holy of holies” was the high priest, who went into this holiest space on the Day of Atonement. Between the “holy of holies” and the sanctuary was a thick curtain that guarded the division between the spaces.
At the moment Jesus died, the curtain in the temple “was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Why? What was the meaning of this extraordinary act of God? Some scholars have proposed that it reflected the departure of the Lord from the temple. Others have seen the rending of the curtain as a symbol of God’s new availability to all people. No longer was entrance into God’s presence reserved for the high priest. Through Christ, all were invited into intimate relationship with the most holy God. As it says in Hebrews 4:14-16:
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you come boldly before the throne of our gracious God? Why or why not? What keeps you from approaching God freely, eagerly, and openly? Do you live as if the curtain in the temple was torn by the death of Jesus? Or do you live as if the curtain were still there?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, as I consider this stirring picture of the tearing of the curtain in the temple, I’m impressed by how easily I can take it for granted. I know that, through your death, I have access to the Father. I know in my head that this is one of the greatest treasures in life. Yet it’s a gift that can seem so ordinary to me, so commonplace. Forgive me for so undervaluing that which came at such a high cost to you.
Thank you, gracious Lord, for doing that which opened up access to God for all people. Thank you for making a way for me to come before the very throne of God. Thank you for giving me reassurance that I will find abundant grace and mercy when I come in need. Amen.