The exhibit which particularly caught my eye though was neither the most impressive nor beautiful – in fact from a distance it looked rather like a pair of chintzy curtains! However, it was the explanation which went with it that caught my attention because the person who’d created it had written a commentary on her work linking the line in Ecclesiastes, “A time to tear and a time to mend” with the crucifixion of Jesus and the passage in St Matthew’s gospel in which he describes the curtain in the Temple being torn in two.
In this short reflection on the cross I’d like us to try to hold on to that image of the torn curtain as we remind ourselves of the theological significance of the tearing of the curtain in the temple at the moment of Christ’s death. I’d then like us to move on to think about the barriers we create between ourselves and God; and then finally to open ourselves to his healing love – his desire to mend our brokenness – the tears in our lives.
The beginning of Chapter 9 in the letter to the Hebrews is particularly helpful as we try to understand the significance of the curtain in the temple being torn in two. This summarises the rather more complex descriptions of the sacrificial system recorded in the Old Testament.
We gather from Hebrews that there were two curtains in the temple – an outer one, and an inner one – which hung before the entrance to the Holy of Holies.
It was only the High Priest who could enter through this curtain just once a year to offer a blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people – a sacrifice which had to be repeated over and over again.
It would have been this inner curtain which Matthew was alluding to; making the point that the moment of Jesus’s death was the moment at which the old order was torn part – Jesus through his once & for all perfect sacrifice had opened the new way to God.
The crucified Jesus – his body torn and broken – brings about Atonement; restoring the relationship between humankind & God. So here the time to tear and the time to mend are brought together at one moment in time.
God has torn the curtain – opened the way to his presence & yet we know that we do things in our lives which erect new barriers.
Let’s move on to think for a few moments about some of the things we do in our lives which draw a curtain, so to speak, between ourselves and God.
We will all have things which are particular to ourselves as individuals, but my guess is that there are some things which are common to many of us, and I mention just three:
The first, which I know I am guilty of, is not really being prepared to accept God’s grace. If I were to go back and analyse the sermons I’ve preached over the years, many of them will talk at some point about God’s love and of it freely given – not needing to be earned.
With my mind, I truly believe that and yet somewhere deep within me is the inclination to “do good things” and even worse to compare myself with others – falling into the trap of the Pharisee saying in his prayers: “I thank you God that I’m not like other people ……”
As we stand at the foot of the cross, we all need to let down that barrier of attempting to justify ourselves and instead throw ourselves on God’s mercy, as the tax collector did in the same parable.
A second barrier is that of being too busy and so not having the time to give God our full and proper attention. I don’t want us all to go on a guilt trip here because we don’t spend hours on our knees each day – but if you are anything like me, even at the times when you are participating in worship or daily prayer; your mind will be half on something else – or even worse, somewhere else completely.
So in this frantic world of ours if we are to enjoy God’s love for us I suspect that many of us need to practice attentiveness and techniques for clearing our minds of clutter.
Then thirdly we often forget that we encounter God in other people. Loving God and loving others is absolutely bound together; but much of the time we are so bound up with ourselves and our own desires that we don’t really pay attention to the needs of our neighbour or indeed the good things that others have to offer us– and as we ignore them, up goes the barrier between ourselves and God.
The Festival of Holy Cross offers us the chance to think again about Christ’s Sacrifice. This can be for us “THE TIME TO TEAR AND THE TIME TO MEND” as we open ourselves to God’s free forgiveness and healing love and let that flow through us into the lives of others where he also dwells.