The last curtain

Good Friday – St. Matthew 27:51

What was the Old Testament lesson on the First Sunday in Lent?  Adam and Eve falling into sin, and being cast out of the Garden of Eden, thus being separated from God, with whom prior they had a close, personal, face to face relationship with.

With that in mind, what is the repeating mantra of Lent?  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  You have sinned, you have fallen short of God’s glory, therefore, as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, you too are separated from God.

Lent is a continual reminder of our separation from God, for we are separated by our failure to keep the law; separated by our continual breaking of the Ten Commandments; separated by God’s demand that we be holy in thought, word and deed, and our failure to do so.

This separation from God shows itself in a very real and physical form in the Old Testament temple.  For where is God?  He is behind the curtain; He is found in the most holy place, where you cannot enter; where you cannot go, save for once a year, when the high priest goes in and sprinkles the blood of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement on behalf of all the people.

Your whole life, you stand on one side of the curtain, separated from God by your sins.

On the surface, that curtain is in fact nothing more than a piece of cloth; most likely a heavy cloth, but a piece of cloth none the less.  Does it move one way or the other when a breeze blows through?  Does it ever get put out of place so that you can gaze through and catch a glimpse of what is on the other side?  Or is it as thick and as immovable as a wall made of concrete?

In many senses it is the equivalent of a velvet rope or a plastic strip of police tape; it can hardly hold you back on its own, but it is the power that stands behind it that truly prevents you from crossing over.

And so it is with the curtain in the temple.  Could you go behind it?  Sure; after all, it is just a piece of fabric.  But you never would, for that curtain separates you, the lowly sinner, from the presence of the powerful and most holy God.

For 1500 years, from the time of the Exodus to today, in Jerusalem in 33AD that curtain hangs, separating the people from God; in fact, protecting the people from God, for who can gaze upon the face of God and hope to live?

Surely not you or I.  For we have indeed sinned in thought, word and deed and fallen short of the glory of God; there is no way that you or I could approach God and expect to live.

But you and I are not the only ones separated from God, and it is not just ancient Israel either; today Jesus Himself finds that He too is separated from God the Father.

For as Jesus hangs upon the cross, God the Father abandons Him; He turns His back on Him; He stuffs up His ears so as to not hear His pleas for mercy.  God the Father truly sets up a wall of separation between Himself and His one and only Son, who though innocent, now hangs upon a cross, sentenced to death.

And Jesus does die.  He is dead.  That is the punishment pronounced upon sinners who are unworthy to pass through the curtain and see the glory of God.  That is the punishment for breaking the Law, for disregarding the Ten Commandments, for refusing to be holy and perfect.

But upon His death, Matthew, Mark and Luke each record the tearing of the curtain in the temple from top to bottom.

For Jesus death is no ordinary death; He was innocent; He broke no law; He kept all of the Commandments; He lived a holy and perfect life.

Jesus did not die because He was guilty; rather Jesus died because you were guilty.  Jesus died for your sins, for your lack of holiness; for your imperfections.

But Jesus is not a random sheep that is slaughtered so that its blood may be sprinkled upon the altar thus atoning for a sin that has been committed.  Jesus is the spotless Lamb of God, whose blood is shed not just to atone for one or two sins committed along the way; rather His death is to forgive all sins and to restore the relationship between God and His people once and for all.

The death of Jesus is about bringing you and your Father in heaven back into a right relationship with each other.  So that your Father in heaven will no longer look upon you in anger or in hatred, but that He might look upon you in love and grace and mercy; and you can gaze upon your Father in heaven, and live.

And with that, there is no longer a need for a curtain to separate you from your Father in heaven.  You no longer need to approach in fear and trepidation; there is no longer a veil to protect you from the glory of God.  Rather you can cast your gaze upon Him and know that by His Word, by Christ’s own suffering and death; by His gifts given and shed for you, you are His beloved child, and you will now live with Him in His kingdom forever.

For the relationship that Adam and Eve had with God, that close, personal relationship that was lost in the Garden of Eden, is once more.  For God the Father has called you by name in Holy Baptism to be His own; He invites you forward to feast on the body and blood of Jesus; He hears your prayers; He daily provides all that you need to support this body and life.

The barrier between earth and heaven, the barrier between God and His people, the barrier between you and your Father in heaven, is no more.  It has been removed by the holy and precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Christ.

About revschmidt

An LCMS Pastor in North-Central Kansas
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