Holy Week Thoughts to Ponder: Grace Set Free
“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, Into thy hands I commit my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:44-46)
To even begin to absorb this, we must look at it with a more-than-literal perspective -metaphorically. If we do, it blossoms with energy and meaning.
Luke says the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The curtain, you see, was the drape that separated the Holy of Holies, that sacred place in the core of the great temple; an ultra-holy place where it was believed the Divine was especially present; a place isolated from the rest of the world. No person could ever enter the Holy of Holies except the High Priest and he but once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to make sacrifice for the sins of the nation. But Luke says the curtain was “ripped in two,” reduced to rags!
The message was crystal clear. The temple aristocracy were no longer in charge of mediating God’s grace. The distribution of God’s grace was no longer to be rationed-out like it was in short supply, and of course, only to the defined-deserved. No longer would God’s most serious business of love occur behind curtains and closed doors, in secret and isolation. The message was that God will not tolerate being be sequestered any more. Grace was officially set loose in the world, turning up in the most unlikely places, even in this most profane place of death and execution.
Do you see the message here? The lines between the sacred and profane have been blurred. They are no longer so distinct. It is not clear any more as to what exactly is sacred and what exactly is profane; not clear who is in and who is out; who is included and who is “left behind.” Grace on the loose blurs and erases the lines. Forgiveness has been taken care of. The oppressed are liberated. The exile can come home because home, the love of God, is set loose and it comes to them. The lost are found by a seeking love. The prisoners are set free by the embrace of that love. You and me and the whole world, without exception, can experience that Divine love.
Only when the temple curtain was in shreds, and narrow, exclusive and oppressive traditional religious practices turned topsy-turvy, did Jesus commend his spirit to God and die. It’s Luke’s version of John’s “It is finished.”
The audacity of God! How dare God do such a thing! How dare God blur our neatly drawn lines between sacred and profane that we use to judge and control others. How dare God tinker with our carefully crafted belief systems. How dare God crack open our securely sealed God boxes. God will no longer be confiscated, isolated and mediated by narrow and arrogant human thinking anymore.
Just try and imagine: grace running loose in the world; cascading through life like a tidal wave, washing indiscriminately over the sacred and profane, saints and sinners, the good and bad alike? Compassion, acceptance, social justice and inclusivity running rampantly out of control. Just imagine such a world that is not limited by narrow religious exclusions!
Some did, and tragically, it was too much for others; maybe for most. Indiscriminate grace was seen to be dangerous and too risky; too out of control. Much of the history of the Christian Church ever since could be described has an attempt to stitch the curtain of the temple back together again; to wrest control of grace back from God; to mediate it narrowly and exclusively using confining institutionally imposed beliefs and doctrinal formulas, insuring that only a few really deserve it.
I have to wonder what Jesus would say and do if he were to walk among us again and see much of what has been proclaimed and done in his name down through the centuries since; how he has been grotesquely distorted; how the essence of who he was, how he lived and what he taught has been ripped out him.
I suppose he would probably do what he did the first time: come announcing and embodying the Kingdom of God; preaching the inclusive and lavish love of God’s kingdom; lifting up the least and the last that have been oppressed by the domination systems of our day. He would be especially annoyed with the strictly religious who narrowly mediate God’s grace. And they would be annoyed with him, and would probably conspire to do away with him all over again.
But he is not here in the flesh to do it again, but we are! And, my friends, that’s the point! We are now his hands and feet; his heart and mind. We now, by grace through faith, assume his life to be lived in the world. Will his heart and soul live on – in and through us? It is a pertinent question that comes with this word. As his followers and disciples it is up to us to take up our cross; to love lavishly and passionately for the sake of the Kingdom of God; to see to it that the curtain never be stitched back together again, and that God’s grace is set loose in the world.