The Undoing

Today at church the pastor spoke of one of the (seemingly) smaller pieces of what happens after Jesus’ crucifixion and before his resurrection. It’s a passage of scripture that can easily be brushed over in any given reading, if you do not stop to understand the reason why it’s in the text:

[Matthew 27:51] “…at that moment the curtain in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom…”

It is not lost on me that this year, I have been reading about the instructions God gave Moses in building the temple… the ones that put the curtain up in the first place.

I have been swimming in the cultural context, if you will, of the time in which the story of the Exodus takes place. People who spent years in slavery, with a promise of land from a god that spoke to their ancestor Abraham. I am sure they re-told stories, but by the time Moses came to deliver them, they must have wondered where this god was. They spent generations watching people around them worship many different gods, and it’s highly possible that they also were not monotheistic at the time (think about the golden calf incident). The idea that a god would not just lead people out of slavery but then would make a covenant with them AND come to visit them? Who was this God?

Holy and dangerous – is how God came across to them at Sinai. They feared him when he spoke and begged him not to speak any more. “Speak through Moses” – they pleaded. We will listen to him. But God was insistent on finding a way to be in the very midst of his people, even though they were stubborn and repeatedly failed to trust Him on the journey in the wilderness. Hence – instructions God gave Moses on having a “tent of meeting”, or a mobile tabernacle. God continually met with Moses and Aaron in this sacred place, and when He did, people noticed. As this recently-delivered community of slaves questioned and argued and challenged Moses, God still came, in a cloud, to lead and help give direction. Yet in the tent of meeting, a curtain was there to protect the people from His presence, and no one was allowed in except Aaron and the priests. In fact, when the cloud moved, the text tell us that Aaron and his sons had to very carefully place the curtain over the ark of the covenant, then cover it with leather and more cloth, before it could be carried. If anyone touched it other than the priests, they would die. God’s presence good to have in their midst – yes – but it was also very dangerous for them. (Num 4:5-6, 15)

I know it’s hard for us to understand this kind of holiness. I certainly struggle with it, but that is probably because I’ve only ever been presented with the openness of relationship with God that is represented in Jesus and his work on the cross. Don’t get me wrong – God is still holy, but the fear of being in relationship with Him has been settled long ago, and I’ve come to trust that bigger truth.

Following the Israelites across the pages of the Old Testament, we find that this ark of the covenant eventually came to rest in a physical temple. The building grew bigger, and so did the curtain. More and more layers. More and more distance between the everyday person and the very presence of God.

Yet God’s heart, His desire to dwell with his people, never changed….even though they continued to be stubborn (as do we sometimes, right?)

After Jesus died on the cross, the curtain tearing in the temple was thus the great undoing of years of separation. God forever declaring He would no longer be contained in a physical place, that instead access to his presence would forever be open to whoever might come and seek Him.

Pretty beautiful, isn’t it? In some ways, this is the side of Easter that takes some meditating on to really let its truth sink into your soul.

My friends, I don’t know your church background, and I don’t know what you have been taught about God either. You may struggle with belief in an ancient story, or may question the absurdity of the claims that God can dwell with us here in this broken world. You may doubt that you really can go straight to God, that He would ever really want to hear from you. Oh, let me promise you – He does, and he made a way for you to get there. But all of these things are real, honest, and matters you will have to wrestle with, for they are the stuff of faith.

In this week leading up to Easter, I encourage you to sit for a moment and let there be some “undoing” in the space between you and God too. He’s there, and I promise He’s patient.

Blessings!

An early Easter observation

(Quilt photo taken from the Houston Quilt show 2016)

Ok, I’ll admit it: I have never really been one for walking through the church calendar years and observing all the days. I get why they are there. I understand the point of Ash Wednesday and Lent, and there have been years where I have really tried to enter into the season more than others. In a world that seems so void of hope and so very broken, for someone who always tries to look on the bright side of things, it’s difficult to let myself”enter in” to the depth of the my sin and the sin of the world, and lament. It’s much easier to focus on the breakthrough of Resurrection Sunday and the hope it brings – not in a happy-clappy sort of way though. I’d like to think I have learned (and am still learning) how to experience the full depth of life it brings.

That being said, I still make a point to read through the stories of Jesus being arrested, interrogated, flogged, and crucified. Why? Certainly not because I forget. I think each year I search for some new aspect that brings insight into what He experienced, how He walked it out, and what I can learn. This year is no different.

All my life I have heard stories of people who have been hurt by “the church”. The reasons are many: They didn’t feel cared for enough, they were shunned or judged for not being “holy enough”, they asked questions and doubted, they challenged church teachings that didn’t seem right, they were gossipped about or made decisions that others didn’t agree with. Some are stories of the church bringing shame or fear where it should bring freedom. There are worse things too, stories of spiritual abuse and calling evil good that I can’t even write about here. You know, because some of you have lived through them, or know people who have.

They are people who have been hurt who stop feeling that God, or his people are safe at all. People who have fled to take hold of the hope of Jesus, only to have Him get lost in the church machine to the point where it seems like business – not the life Jesus came to bring. People that have been hurt by ones they trusted.

My heart breaks every time I hear another story of someone giving up. Not because they can’t find God outside of church, but because too often they walk away from the richness that is theirs by right. Yes, we are imperfect at carrying the very life Jesus came to bring … but sometimes that imperfection is more hurtful than we realize.

This year, what I notice in the Easter story is that Jesus too, was the victim of “spiritual abuse”. Lies were told about him. No one wanted to hear his side of the story (not that he put up a fight, but his life said it all). All He ever wanted to do was show people what God was really like. Some got him. Most didn’t, and he paid for it. Every one of you reading has probably heard that Jesus’ death was in part, to show solidarity with the suffering. I don’t disagree. But this year my heart goes out to those who have been shunned, let down, deeply hurt, and even abandoned by the church.

I am so, so sorry. And because I, too, have gone through two very hurtful, spiritual abuse scenarios in my past, times when I was about to give up on church, I know in part where you have been. Sometimes it’s hell trying to recover, and you wonder if you can claw your way back to faith, or even if you want to. I get it.

This Easter, I hope in some quiet way you can see that Jesus gets it too. He knows. He feels your pain and knows the heartbreak of being misunderstood and treated wrongly. Somehow, in the mystery of God, my hope is that this Easter brings you to a place of resurrection in your own life. Not to the church (because for some of you it may feel like an abuser), but to the God who loves you, the Jesus who authors life and brings soul-healing in ways words cannot describe. My prayer is that you can step aside and take a moment to create some space where you can be whoever and however you need to be with Jesus, and let him help you carry that pain and disappointment, and exchange it for hope and something new.

Let him come find you, because you’re worth it! If I were with you right now, I’d sit and listen and cry with you, and then we’d somehow find our way back to life together.