By Lisa Huddleston
“Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split” (Matt.27:51).
The earth shook, and the world changed. Forever. Everything had revolved around laws and sacrifices. Burnt offerings, grain offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, fellowship offerings. Offerings for intentional sins and offerings for sins you didn’t even know you’d committed. But now, suddenly, all that was over. No more priests. No more bleating sheep and bleeding goats. No more incense smoke screens. No discreet distance nor safe separation. Suddenly, with earth quaking immediacy, we stood face to face with God. Like Adam and Eve running for cover to hide their nakedness, we no longer had a place to hide. Jesus’ once-and-for-all sacrifice brought us straight to the throne of God himself.
But we can’t look on the face of God and live. Can we? It’s too much holiness. Too much God. Sometimes I long for a temple. A place where I could take my unsuspecting little lamb and slit its throat to atone for my unholiness. My sin. Do you know what I mean? Actually do something that shows me and those around me that all is forgiven. Then I could walk home in my blood-spattered jeans knowing, for after all seeing is believing, that I had confessed.
Too bloody? Too violent? Okay, then what about a confessional? Maybe that would do it. I’m just imagining here, but I bet it could be pretty intimidating telling my sins to a priest. Whispering with shame. Hanging my head as I revealed my failures to one who actually stood in God’s place. Then gladly receiving my punishment. (Is it called penance?) I think it would feel much the same as taking my offering to the temple. Confession. Restitution. Done deal.
But where is the altar for today’s confession? Where can I slit the throat of sin and bleed my woe upon a stone? Many may point to the front of the sanctuary. The cushioned, carpeted steps on which we are invited to pray. But I don’t see the blood spilled there. I don’t feel the relief of true repentance. I find myself asking forgiveness many times for past and present transgressions. Rehashing the same old mistakes. Revisiting with insecurity the same old offenses. But I know I am wrong. Blood has spilled. A great sacrifice has been paid. True penance has been done. It just hasn’t been my blood, my sacrifice or my penance. It was paid in my place by One who never sinned. And it was finished just before the curtain split. My altar is the cross.
Now I feel the blade in my hand. Now I see the blood poured out. Now I whisper my shame and hang my head. And now I receive His gift. Forgiveness! Paid in full and done once and for all! Forever. And forever and forever, I can boldly approach the throne of God and see Him—face to face.