Easter is right around the corner. Judging by the shelves in local stores, it’s been right around the corner for two months now. It seems every store is reminding us to prepare, prepare, prepare. And when it comes to the material aspect, I’ve done my part. I have a banner over my fireplace and bunnies on my dining room buffet. A few small gifts have been purchased for my children and the buckets are wiped down and ready to hold their bounty.
But have I really prepared? Have I prepared in the ways that count? My house may be ready but what about my heart? I’ve acquired what I need to fill the baskets, but do I have what I need to fill my soul?
The truth is probably not. In typical fashion I’ve focused on what’s before me rather than what’s within me. Thankfully, it’s never too late. So today I am brought to the gorgeous passage of John chapter 17 and asking God to do his thing and move me closer to the cross.
To give a little background, John 17 holds great significance in the Easter story. Christ had just finished the last Passover meal he would share with the disciples, his closest followers. Over the course of the meal he did His best to explain infinite truths to finite men. He instructed and encouraged them. He warned and comforted them. And then, he prayed for them. He begins by lifting his head to heaven and addressing the Father.
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” John 17:1-5
Reading these verses, they strike me a little like a letter of resignation. There is a sense of no regret. An impression that Christ has done what he came to do. “The stage is set. The actors are in position and the lights are focused. It’s time to open the curtain.”
Or in this case, rip the curtain. Right in two.
“And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Mark 15:37-38
The innermost sanctuary of the Jewish temple was called the Holy of Holies and it was the housing for the very presence of God. It was separated from the rest of the space by a large curtain. Once a year, the high priest alone was permitted to enter in order to make atonement for the sins of Israel. It was a big deal. There was washing and anointing. There were garments and traditions. Passing through the curtain was no small thing as it gave access to God and that kind of access was reserved for a very select few.
But here was Jesus blowing the whole thing wide open. Not just pulling back the curtain a la Wizard of Oz, but tearing the very fabric itself thereby giving the entire audience direct access to the author and director of it all, God himself. It’s as if Christ is saying, “There is no going back. This curtain cannot be mended so don’t even think about it.”
Oh how this must have infuriated the religious leaders. After months of gathering ammunition and false evidence of blasphemy and heresy, the very one they thought they had silenced made the most daring and politically incorrect declaration of all: “The curtain is no more. Come and meet your God.”
Suddenly everyone had admittance into God’s presence. Every daughter, every son could now come boldly with their petitions, their pain, their repentance. There was nothing standing in the way between God and his children. No curtain, no priest, no law and no sin.
It’s difficult for us to comprehend the impact of this. But two thousand years ago this was radical and even scandalous. It’s just not how things were done. There were rules, thou shalts and thou shalt nots. And while the religious leaders could not stomach the shift, those who loved their Lord must’ve wept at the sound of that torn fabric.
I have to admit that I take the extinction of the curtain for granted. The idea of approaching God directly is comfortable and familiar. Perhaps a bit too familiar. On my knees every morning do I fully grasp who I am speaking with? I’m not sure I can. My human mind is incapable of realizing the fullness of God’s power and glory. And I believe that’s just where the beauty of Christ’s death and resurrection is found. Despite our veiled understanding and human limitations, Christ’s sacrifice allows us to know God in an intimate and profound way that had never before been possible.
As I move closer to the cross and the empty tomb in the next several days, I understand that preparedness is not a one-time process. Real preparation occurs every day, 365 days a year. Each time I unknowingly acknowledge the torn curtain, I am preparing. Each time I whisper a prayer to the Father I am honoring the sacrifice of the Son. Each cry to my Creator is a product of unhindered access. Each moment, each breath, each word I utter in need or thanksgiving is possible because of Christ.
So as we approach Easter, let us look towards the Son. Let us gaze towards the cross and behold the unimaginable sacrifice mixed with divine glory. And let us not forget what is no longer there. The curtain is torn. The veil is lifted. The invitation is ours for the taking.
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”