Sunday, January 15, 2017

The veil: The torn flesh

He stood there a moment, before the veil, to admire it.

He knew all the facts, the facts that every priest was taught. It was a curtain of blue, purple, and scarlet thread. It was almost a hand-breath thick. It was made in the wilderness at the command of God. It separated the Holy from the Most Holy Place. But it was one thing to know about the veil or have seen it and another to have to lift it and pass behind it.

His father had warned him that it would be even heavier than he was expecting. That was something only his father, of all men living, would have known and experienced. Now he would know it too. "May the weight remind you of the solemnity of your task." He lowered his head, pushed back against these memories, and the focused again on the veil.

As his eyes traced it from top to bottom, he noticed the glimpse of silver. These were the bases that held the four gold posts from which the veil was hung. Except for the five bronze bases on the posts holding the entrance curtain, everything else in the Holy Place shone with gold in the light of the lamp.

Of course, the unavoidable feature of the veil was the cherubim that were embroider onto it. A warning. He tried not to dwell on them now because they reminded him of the cherubim that God had charged to keep Adam and Eve from returning to Eden. They reminded him of flaming swords.

He ran a last inventory. Censer? Check. Coals from the altar? Incense? Blood from the bull sacrifice? Check. Check. Check.

It was time. He placed two handfuls of incense on the burning coals of the censer. As the fragrant cloud grew and enclosed him, he lifted the veil and carefully stepped into the presence of God.

Matthew tells us that, at the moment Jesus gave up his Spirit, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This would have been a terrifying event for any priest standing in the temple at that moment. They would have turned at the sound of ripping fabric to find themselves looking, for the very first time, into the Most Holy Place. This would have been unprecedented. Only the High Priest could enter behind the veil and then only once a year and then only under very a prescribed protocol. Only, only, only.

The tearing of the veil indicates that the status quo has changed. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote that every believer, as a priest, can now come into the presence of God with boldness. The reason for this access is that Christ has created a new and living way: by the blood and through the veil. The Greek word translated "new" in Hebrews 10:20 carried with it the idea of something that is recent, but also of something recently slaughtered. That verse also makes it clear that the veil is a picture of Christ's flesh. Our new access is granted by the sacrifice of Christ, through His shed blood and His pierced flesh. It is on the basis of the sacrifice of our High Priest that we can have approach God. Even better, the way is living. It is powerful, perpetual, efficacious. A way has been opened that will never again be closed.

(Levitcus 16; Matthew 27:50-52; Hebrews 10:19-26)