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Passion Sunday; or, Trashing the Decor

And the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom.  (Mark 15:38)

Today is Passion Sunday, aka Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, when we stand in silence and listen to the Passion story.

This was the penultimate line from the Gospel reading, and it occurred to me, as I listened, how utterly threatening it was.

The "curtain of the Temple" is of course the cloth veil that separated the "inner sanctuary" from the "holy of holies", the chamber where dwelt the Divine Presence, the chamber which no one entered save the High Priest, and he only once a year.  As described by Josephus, it was a rich and beautiful fabric, scarlet and purple, embroidered with the astrological signs of the heavens.

Of course this curtain is rife with symbolic meanings as well.  It is the infinite barrier between Heaven and Earth, the Sacred and the Profane. It is the firmament that prevents "the waters of the heavens" from inundating the earth.  It is the gilded planks of the sacred Ark, protecting us from the awesome destructive threat of the unmediated Law.  It is the clouds and darkness and fire that surround the Divine Glory, the face that "none shall look upon and live."  It is the "veil of flesh" that the Eternal Word graciously adopted, before appearing to us in Bethlehem. 

It is for our protection, our shield, our defense.  But now,

the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom. 

But it is not only we who benefit from this curtain.  It spares the Holy of Holies from being contaminated by us as we are, leaving only the gauzy reflection of who we ought to be.  Without the veil, all will be exposed to the Sacred Purity:  all our failures, all our smallness, all our dirt and grief and pain.

The naked corpse of the homeless teacher, tortured and broken and executed, and those who saw their dreams and hopes crushed with him.

The murdered boy in the street, wearing a hoodie and clutching his Skittles; and the frightened bigot who shot him.

The aliens hiding in our midst, desperate and isolated; and we who eat what they cook and live where they built, but refuse to see them. 

The one percent in their glass office towers and penthouses, and the majority of the ninety-nine percent who vote to keep them there.

The starving and the sick, the beaten and the spat upon, the angry and the terrified and the hopeless and the dead, and all of us who justify their suffering, lest unfairness and misfortune take offense and choose to visit us.

How can any omnipotent Creator not reject Creation, not be lost in bitter Self-condemnation, once

the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom?

Yeah, I know what the Good News is supposed to be here.  I attended Sunday School, I've heard dozens of sermons on the image. 

With the Atonement achieved, there is no more barrier between the worshipper and the Worshipped.  We no longer require priest or mediator;  we can all stand alone, unafraid, in the presence of the Living God.

Swell. 

I'm an Episcopalian partly because I like priests and mediators.  They went to priest school;  they've got the special red Prayer Book; they know the ritual dance and the sacred language; they've got the capes and the pointy hats.  It's their job to stand between me and the Mysterium Tremendum.

I get sick to my stomach when I have to talk to the Mayor.  Now you're telling me to report to the Creator of the Universe, the Ground of Being, the Desire of Nations.

Can't I cure cancer first? Or at least catch up on my monthly pledge?  Please, give me a minute to change my shoes?

The curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom.

It's getting too bright in here;  the light is hurting me.

We can fix this.

 I know how to sew;  or there's safety pins, clothespins.  We can patch that thing up in a jiffy.  We've got flags, robes, slipcovers, old socks, anything will do. 

You can't make me go in there.

The curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom.

What if I go in, and I'm not who You wanted to see?

What if I go in, and You're different from what I expected?

What if I go in, and there's Nobody there?

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