Good Friday Readings: Mark 15
I am not sure that before this week, I paid much attention to the curtain mention in Mark, let alone the passage listed in Exodus. But this year it has my attention. This Lenten season our congregation engaged in tearing a piece of purple cloth during the prayer of confession. The prophet Joel speaks about the rendering (tearing) of cloth as an act of confession before God and as a cry for help. Our rendering was nothing flashy. There was no piety being flaunted, just us humbly remembering those places in our lives where we have failed to measure up to God’s expectations and those places where we need God’s help.
In yesterday’s reading, we see the high priest tearing his robe. It was the tradition that if someone with higher authority was mad or frustrated about something he would tear his robe from top to bottom to show his displeasure. The tear starts at the collar of the robe and would continue until his undergarments were exposed (an act that is also shameful).
Today, as Jesus breathes his last breath and utters, “It is finished” see the Temple curtain being torn in two from top to bottom. The curtain, as it is described in Exodus 26:31-33, sounds like it is both elaborate and beautiful. The Temple Curtain, placed at the entrance of the Holy of Holies, sets apart the holiest part of the Temple, the place where God dwells.
This Holy of Holies, is a place where no one other than a High Priest is permitted to enter. And he could only enter once a year on Yom Kippur. Ordinary people, like you and me, had no access to such a place because of our sinfulness. To see God, directly would mean death.
The tearing of the Temple curtain in Mark could be showing us two things. First, God’s displeasure in what is happening to His Son and secondly, the symbolic tearing down of a barrier that separated God from His people. The text gives great details in the tearing of the curtain. Mark notes that it was torn from top to bottom, like a robe would be torn (this is Mark’s way of letting the reader know that it was completely torn in two. This isn’t a little rip or partial tear.)
What does it mean to us to have this curtain removed, to have this barrier taken down? It means full access to God. Worship is not just songs about God, but a time when we can draw near to God. Prayer is a time when we can talk directly to God, without anyone needing to mediate on our behalf. This tearing down means a full relationship with God is possible and desired by God. It means we aren’t out there in the world by ourselves, we have someone walking along side us, living in fellowship with us, talking to us, giving us strength. The tearing of the curtain is a sign of hope!
* I will be going into this further at our Good Friday Service, April 22, at 12pm at Second Presbyterian Church (4200 St. Paul St. Baltimore, MD 21218). In this service, we will be tearing “our own curtains” those things that separate us from God’s love.