“Rent” may sound like real estate terminology, but that’s not the direction I’m going. For this post, we’re interested in the word as the past tense of “rend,” meaning “tear into two or more pieces.”
In Matthew 27:51 we are told that the curtain restricting access to the Holy of Holies in the Jewish temple “was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” when Jesus died on the cross. What powerful symbolism God provided to bolster people’s chances of understanding what Jesus, our great high priest, did by giving His life, by being the Lamb of God. This rending of the spiritual barrier required a perfect sacrifice, and Jesus was the only one qualified. Therefore, He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
Having come to Christ for forgiveness and salvation, a believer has stepped across the threshold formerly barred by what must have been – at least, in my imagination, whether historically factual or not – a curtain of heavy, heavy velvet or canvas, maybe dark maroon or black. I imagine it being as thick as possible, impossible to have been folded up at its edges for machine hemming (much worse than 9 layers of blue jeans denim in a double hem at the side seams, practically guaranteed to break your machine’s needle!!). The point is that the veil or curtain was, in its spiritual meaning, impassable and impenetrable. Possibly we should almost imagine, too, that it was soundproof: God might not hear the penitent’s confessions nor the supplicant’s help-cries through that barrier.
Now: picture a softly-billowing, bright white curtain like the one pictured above. It is not secured at every corner nor all along top, bottom, and sides with harshly-forbidding metal hardware. Rather, it is mounted merely at intervals, so that light may seep through at the gaps. This veil of insubstantial fabric is softer than the finest bedsheets of Egyptian cotton. Furthermore, it is not soundproof. In fact, the One who keeps this curtain in place wants folks to hear what’s happening on the other side of it! He hopes those dwelling outside this veil will walk right up to it and camp there, listening, touching, and watching for shapes that occasionally brush against it from the other side.
The opening of that curtain for admission is an event that we have been promised and that we anticipate, in hope, as we read Bible passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:54-55. That event is going to happen at an appointed time. The instant is as close as just one breath, and heaven-bound sojourners not yet able to cross the filmy barrier between mortality and immortality nevertheless experience much of what’s happening behind the veil. They discern in their spirits the voice of Who reigns in that place; they understand language; they raise their voices to join in the music. They are almost living there; just not quite yet.
I have now explained, the best way I can, how it often feels to me to be camping just outside the realm of heaven and of eternity while the confines of this brief, mortal assignment prevent me from stepping into the full presence of God. I suppose I must credit various New Testament passages (as well as Old Testament) for this sense I have of the merest degree of separation that holds us present in the body and absent from the Lord. See 2 Corinthians 5:8
So…what is behind that barrier?
Every good gift made perfect; every “the best I can manage” made the best possible by anyone; every mystery revealed; every question answered (or made irrelevant); every physical and mental shackle “poofed” away; every sorrow consoled; every tear dried; all inheritance granted that was formerly held in trust.
For the redeemed soul, the person grateful to be part of that unique vine-and-branches relationship with God incarnate, the activity just this side of the veil not yet “rent” is all about a desire to come home; to dwell permanently in a place that is known to be the most homelike though it has never been seen; to stop seeing “through a glass darkly” and to start life as life was meant to be. The veil grows thinner, weaker, and more see-through as intensifies our desire and our literal progress through time toward our appointed moment of seeing Christ face to face. And, when that time arrives for our entry into His presence, the veil simply evaporates away in the twinkling of an eye. Or, perhaps we simply walk right through it, as Jesus entered a locked room to be with the disciples on resurrection Sunday night! See John 20:19
As Heaven calls, the things of earth “grow strangely dim“! God, guide us, from this day until that great day, to be joyfully aware of how the veil not yet rent is dissolving a little bit more every day.