At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Matthew 27: 51a
One of the most radical events in the history of God’s relationship with humankind, and we find it tucked away as almost a throw away comment – not even half a verse.
The Temple in Jerusalem was a bit like an onion – lots of layers. The outer layers of the courtyards were the most accessible, with the fewest restrictions. As you went further in, fewer and fewer people would be granted access, until you got to that special curtained off bit known as the Holy of Holies. You didn’t just have to be a Jew, or even a Jewish man. Even being from the priestly tribe of Levi wasn’t enough. Only one person – the High Priest – could venture there – literally on pain of death.
That sounds like a lot of religious elitism, but this practice was actually initiated by God himself (you can find the extremely detailed plans in Exodus). The religious leaders might be going through the correct processes, but by the time Jesus was around, the intent and meaning of it had got lost somewhere along the way. The Temple – and the Tent before it – were real tangible symbols that God was not an absentee landlord; he dwelt among his people, right there in the middle of their community. The Priests were there to facilitate the relationship of the people with their God.
By the time Jesus was living, the religious leaders had become an elite group that were more of a hinderance than a help to people building a relationship with God. In tearing apart the Temple curtain, God refuses to be put in a box, or to allow anyone to get in the way of his relationship with him. Jesus is now our High Priest, and he makes a relationship with God possible for absolutely anyone. God is out in the world – in the streets, in our homes, in our workplaces. He is in our churches and also in the dark places of this world. There is no barrier that Jesus has not already dealt with in his life, death and resurrection. Isn’t that wonderful?
Today, reading this again two things stand our for me. Firstly, God will not hesitate to do a new thing to bring his plans to fruition. What is the new thing that we may be being called to be part of – even if it means turning over our old, treasured traditions?
Secondly, years later Peter described the church as a ‘royal priesthood.’ That’s us, by the way – and in the Church of Scotland we believe in ‘the priesthood of all believers.’ So, are we making it easier for others to come into relationship with God, or are we getting in their way? What metaphorical curtain is God tearing apart in our spiritual and religious life?
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the sacrifice of our Lord, and great high priest, Jesus Christ, who makes it possible for us to come to you, just as we are. Thank you too that you refuse to allow anyone to come between you and the world that you love. Help us to make it easier for those we encounter to come to you too. Amen
Action: When you open the curtains in the morning, take note of how that action lets the light in. Ask God to show you where things might need a little more light.