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Pressed Against the Veil

I taught sixth grade Bible for several years, and the most boring lesson was always about the temple.

I would make my students memorize the sections of the temple: The outer and inner courts, the Holy Place, and finally, the Holy of Holies, where the very presence of God dwelt. Only one priest once a year would have the privilege of entering it, and a veil--a curtain several inches thick--separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. Since it was rare that a person could stand in the presence of God and not die, that priest would have a rope tied around his leg, just in case he blew it and his lifeless body would need to be yanked out.

My students thought that part was cool. But the rest of it? Boring. I couldn't blame them. But I still taught it, year after year, because I knew that when we got to Good Friday, it would be worth it, and I would hit pay dirt.

We would reach the day of Jesus' crucifixion, they would find themselves interested, in spite of their 12-year-old obligation to never be interested in anything. Things would start clicking into place. We had studied the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, so they suddenly understood how Jesus' death paralleled that event. We had learned about Moses and the Passover, so light bulbs went off when they realized the significance of Jesus dying at the exact time that the lambs were being slaughtered at the temple.

But that was nothing compared to their reaction when they heard about the curtain.

Nestled into the accounts of Jesus' death is one line: "At that moment the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom." (Matt. 27:51) Tangible shock waves would go through the classroom.

The curtain. The curtain that symbolized man's separation from God. The curtain that practically no one could go through without dying. That curtain.

It tore in two? From top to bottom? What do you think that would have been like? I would ask them. The priests would have been freaking out! they would exclaim. No one was supposed to go in there! Hardly anyone had ever even seen behind it!

But since they understood the temple, they understood the significance. Jesus' death meant God opened a way to get to Him. Jesus--the one who called Himself The Way. 

The curtain tore. Sometimes, those 12-year-old adolescents who were never impressed by much--sometimes they would even cry.

There's a song I love from about 25 years ago, which sounds like it was recorded 25 years ago, but it's still on my playlist.

Once there was a holy place
Evidence of God's embrace
And I can almost see mercy's face
Pressed against the veil

Looking down with longing eyes
Mercy must have realized
That once His blood was sacrificed
Freedom would prevail

And as the sky grew dark
And the earth began to shake
With justice no longer in the way

Mercy came running
Like a prisoner set free
....When I could not reach mercy
Mercy came running to me

Jesus cried, It is finished! The curtain tore, and mercy came running.

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