Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 18, 2014

torn open

Passion Friday has become far more than a brief respite from the rhythm of work in my life.  It is no longer a tepid or timid remembrance of Christ’s willful giving of his life for me (and you!).  It has become a sacredly solemn and deeply meaningful day in my intentional walk through the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.  This is a day when there is no shortage of things to draw from in writing.  The problem becomes more of how to focus.  What event, what person, what detail, what emotion would be of profit to share?

This year, on this day, my mind is fixed on a curtain; a curtain that must have been a “seventh wonder” sort of thing to behold.  After researching it, I can only imagine what it was like.  No vibrant and descriptive words, or skilled artist’s rendering could do it justice, of that I am sure.  I was unable to find a definitive source, but common descriptions note the veil as 40 cubits (60 feet) high and 20 (30 feet) wide, with a thickness of a man’s hand (4 inches).  One particularly vivid description (from the writings of Josephus) noted the curtain was made of “Babylonian tapestry, with embroidery of blue and fine linen, of scarlet also and purple, wrought with marvelous skill  … the scarlet seemed emblematical of fire, the fine linen of the earth, the blue of the air, and the purple of the sea.”

Beyond its awe-inspiring form, it had a sacred function.  It was hung to mark the distinction between the sacred center of the temple and the Holy of Holies.  It was a barrier that only a single person could pass through on single day after a strict and significant ritual of preparation.  On the Day of Atonement, and only on that day, the High Priest entered the dwelling place of God with a sacrifice of blood to make atonement for the sins of the people.  There was a curtain that separated God and man.

The Bible says, And it was the third hour when they crucified him. (Mark 15:25 ESV)  And so began a grueling six-hour period of time when Jesus hung on the cross, suspended by a single spike in each hand and one through both feet.  And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. (Mark 15:33 ESV) … a span of three hours that were unlike any other in eternity past or future.  For three hours Jesus drank from the cup that I believe He was speaking of in the garden the evening before.  The cup that He desperately wanted to be removed; the cup He submitted to because it was the will of his Father.  For three hours God the Son was completely and utterly separated from God the Father.  It makes me wonder if it was during those three hours that  the sins of all for all time were quite literally born in His body.  God cannot look on sin, and for three hours He turned his back on his Son.

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. (Mark 15:34-37 ESV)

In the moment immediately following His final breath, the temple curtain tore in two.  The 60 foot, by 30 foot, by 4 inch thick curtain was ripped as if a piece of paper.  The only force equal to that moment was the redemptive force of the willing death of Jesus.  At that singular moment, the barrier between God and man was forever torn open.  On that one last day of atonement, one single Man walked up to the curtain, tore it in two and left it forever open for us in His wake. My God, my God, what can I possibly say in response to that?!  I think the Bible has an answer…

And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ESV)

The veil is gone.  Jesus said, “It is finished!” And it is. Thank you Jesus, for finishing your Father’s work and making a way.  Thank you Jesus, that I have believed, and your sacrifice has once and forever redeemed me.  How about you? Have you believed?  Thank you Jesus, if you have.  If you haven’t, don’t wait another minute!  Call out to Him, and He will answer.

We stand in this place and expectantly wait.  All of creation and God’s Word goes silent after Jesus is taken down from the cross, and the stone is sealed on His tomb.  But it does not stay so.  Resurrection day is coming!

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