Good Friday: A Torn Curtain

St Andrew’s Eaton

‘Virtual Services’

Devotional Service for Good Friday

A Torn Curtain

 

Picture of a torn curtain

 

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10th April, 2020 

Welcome to this ‘virtual service’ for Good Friday from St Andrew’s Eaton. We are sorry we are not able to meet in person, but please join others from the congregation in prayer and learning from God’s word.

 

 

Introduction

There is a saying that “People in Norfolk do things different” and being of Norfolk extraction, that is what I intend to do this morning. I was planning to have the large cross in the centre of the New Church, with chairs arranged in concentric circles around it, so our focus would be on the cross - an arrangement we have had in alternate years since 2012. However, today I would like our focus to be on the words of Matthew 27.50-51a:

 

“Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice

and breathed his last.

At that moment the curtain of the temple

was torn in two from top to bottom”

 

A Collect for Good Friday

Eternal God, in the cross of Jesus we see the cost of our sin and the depth of your love: in humble hope and fear may we place at his feet all that we have and all that we are, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Our first hymn reminds us that we can come to God

just as we are, because in Jesus he has broken every barrier down   -  

Just as I am, without one plea

 

Prayer

O Lamb of God, we come to you now with grateful hearts that you have “broken every barrier down” which separates us from God. Be with us now as we reflect on that barrier, a torn curtain, and help us to experience more of your unknown love. Amen. 

 

We are now going to hear of God’s instructions to Moses concerning the creation of the first curtain:

 

First Reading: Exodus 26.31-35 or listen to the recording here.

 

First Reflection or listen to the recording here.

What has just been described, is the very first curtain or veil, which acted as a barrier into the Holy of Holies, in the temporary tabernacle which God ordered Moses to construct. The tabernacle was a portable structure, but later, the same general layout, though on a larger and grander scale, was used for Solomon’s temple; the temple built in Ezra and Nehemiah’s time; and then Herod’s temple which was still being completed in the time of Jesus. 

The Holy of Holies originally housed the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat, where God’s presence dwelt. However, by the time of Jesus, the Holy of Holies no longer contained the Ark and the Mercy Seat - they had long since been lost - but it was still considered to be the place of God’s presence. 

The only person who was allowed to enter was the High Priest (and then only once a year), to make atonement for the sins of all the people. Because the Holy of Holies was considered to be such a Holy place, the curtain was a barrier to keep everyone else from entering.

This curtain was no ordinary curtain and historical evidence suggests that in the Temple, it would have been 40-60 feet in height and four inches thick. That is quite some structure and a very definite barrier - a barrier keeping everyone, except the High Priest, from God’s presence. 

Imagine how you would feel if you were unable to gain access into God’s presence in prayer.  

Have we allowed a barrier of un-confessed sin to build up between us and God?

 

We pause for personal meditation

 

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you have broken every barrier down, so we may freely enter your presence. Amen.

 

Our next hymn reminds us that “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; he only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in” - 

There is a green hill far away

 

Second Reading: Mark 15.33-39 or listen to the recording here.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

 

Second Reflection or listen to the recording here.

“And the curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom.”

Imagine the enormous curtain hanging in front of the Holy of Holies.  The curtain - 4 inches thick and 40 - 60 feet high, about the height of the Helter Skelter which was in Norwich Cathedral last year. It was a very solid curtain - not one which could be ripped with bare hands, cut with scissors, shears, or even a dagger or an axe. And if you were going to tear such a structure, where would you begin - I suspect you would probably work from the bottom upwards. Yet we are told by Matthew, Mark and Luke that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain was 

“...torn in two, from top to bottom.”

Surely an indication that the tearing of the curtain was not carried out by human kind - rather by an act of God.

Try to imagine that you were present when that dramatic tearing of the curtain took place. Suddenly this vast barrier between you and the Holy of Holies is removed and for the first time you have access to the light of the presence of God.

How might you feel and react? 

What would you want to say to God, even if you were rendered speechless by the experience?

We pause for personal meditation

 

Prayer

Lord, your death on the cross has opened up for us a new and living way into the heavenly sanctuary: help us to commit our lives into your hands and to stay close to you. Amen.

 

Hymn         O to see the dawn

 

Third Reading: Hebrews 10.19-25  or listen to the recording here.                                                      Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

 

Third Reflection or listen to the recording here.

The reading to which we have just listened reminds us of the privilege we have because the curtain is torn. We can enter the sanctuary - the Holy of Holies. We are not reliant on the annual entry of the high priest on our behalf.  Why? Because Jesus, in dying on the cross, paid the penalty - atoned - for our sins and in doing so opened the way to God through the tearing of his flesh, just as the heavy curtain in the Temple was symbolically torn from top to bottom. 

Previously it was the High Priest who took the blood of sacrificial animals into the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the people. There he would have seen the cherubim at either end of the mercy seat, one symbolising Judgement, the other Mercy. Now, Jesus, who shed his own blood to atone for sin, has become our Great High Priest and in doing so has opened the way for us to have direct access to God, to receive his judgement (seeing ourselves as God sees us), but then his mercy when we admit our failure before him 

The access is open to all, but there is a condition; a condition which may be illustrated by the ceremonial washing that the Old Testament priests had to carry out before they could enter God’s presence in the Holy of Holies. Washing that was symbolic of being cleansed from their sin. Similarly, before we enter God’s presence, we need to have faith in what Jesus has done for us; repent of all our sin and claim forgiveness through the blood of, not animals, but of Jesus. So that, we: 

‘approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience...’

What a privilege! However, when we wander into God’s presence with un-cleansed hearts, there will be a barrier of our own making between us and God; a situation tantamount to mending and re-hanging the heavy curtain - shutting ourselves off from God. For as Paul wrote to Timothy, God

‘...desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all...’ 1 Timothy 2.4-5

God is always available to us. Are we always available to him?

Are we open to hearing God’s assessment of us and willing to amend our ways?

Do we hang around long enough in his presence to receive the gift of his mercy? Remember the acronym: God’s Riches AChrist’s Expense - Grace.

We pause for personal meditation.

 

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank you that ‘the price is paid’ and Jesus has bought our freedom from sin. Help us to ‘enter into all that Jesus died to make our own’. Amen

 

Quotes from ‘The price is paid’ – © Graham Kendrick 1983

 

Hymn         How deep the Father’s love for us

 

As we come to the end of our virtual time together, let us stand at the foot of the cross, and come through the torn curtain into our Father’s presence, and pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us

 

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come, 

your will be done, 

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours

now and ever. 

Amen.

 

Let us now say a final prayer together, using it as an act of renewal both personally and for the church in Eaton.

 

Most merciful God, who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, delivered and saved mankind: grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross, we may triumph in the power of his victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Now the Service has come to an end, you may like to spend some time in personal reflection.

 

 

 

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