On blessed Good Friday, the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record something extraordinary that occurred in the most secret places of the Hebrew religion. It is an occurrence that the Hebrews would pay special notice to because it was so rare and unexpected. The implications of what it meant were most likely overlooked by the people who witnessed it, but it became very significant to the Jewish converts.
Matthew wrote about it in Mathew 27:51:
“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split. ”
Matthew tells us the direction in which the curtain was torn. It was torn from top to bottom. How many repairs do you imagine had been made to that curtain across the hundreds of years of use? What was necessary to maintain an extremely thick curtain woven from very specific materials? The Torah has all kinds of details about the curtain from the time the task of making it was given to the Israelites gathered under Moses. The Pharisees and Jews could easily explain a phenomenon like this away. They probably assumed it was the age and materials that had weakened and gave way to the pull of gravity. How long do you suppose it took for them to make the necessary repairs and get the curtain hanging back in place? What did they do to temporarily veil the Holy Place from their sight? Why didn’t they swear everyone to secrecy? Did they not realize the significance of the date it was torn? Very few people would need to know about this mystery. It could have been covered up.
The world did find out. Years later, the gospel writers were careful to add this fact to their records. Matthew, the writer to the Jewish mind, mentioned the direction in which the curtain tore. The curtain tore from top to bottom. It tore from heaven to earth. When did it tear? It tore when the earth rumbled against the earth-shattering event of the death of Jesus on Good Friday. What a symbol of the significance of Christ’s death! It literally showed us what happened spiritually. Because a sinless man had become the sacrifice, there was no need for the Holy of Holies to remain veiled. The throne of God had been made available to mankind.
My Lenten discipline this year was one I had taken up in the past. I stopped it because it was so hard to give my time, twenty minutes two times a day to prayer. This prayer was in addition to my regular daily devotions. I’m trying to make it part of my daily spiritual life but realize that everything in me rebels against this kind of prayer. The veil has been torn, I have instant and much-wanted access to God, but I am not compelled to bring myself into that place. It means I must leave my other place, the place of this earthly life. I might not be able to finish the television show I got caught up in yesterday. I might miss a good conversation with my husband or simply not have time for my own thinking. All these excuses are what keep me from entering the most Holy Place of my soul connecting deeply to the awareness of God, His love for me and His desire to just be with me and share my life.
The curtain to the Holy of Holies is no longer in place. Jesus Christ opened up the veil that kept us from talking to God soul-to-soul. Yet, most of us still remain outside in the courtyard of the temple, caught up in the business of the spiritual life, going to church, serving in our charities, doing what God asks. We are aware that the temple veil is torn and we are happy about that. We are glad that we no longer need to bring a new sacrifice to the temple, but come there only through by the washing of baptism and confessing our belief that Jesus was the Sacrificial Lamb. How often do we come closer, even to the Holy Place where the lampstand glows and the shewbread nourishes and the prayers of God’s people create a fragrant aroma? Do we enter that place of devotion through reading the Word (lampstand), praying for God’s power to work in and through us for the day’s tasks (shewbread) and praying for the world (incense)? On Good Friday, God invited us to come even closer—just enjoy being with Him in prayer, connecting soul to soul in the most Holy Place.