Exodus 26:31-35; Mark 15:33-39; The Veil of the temple was torn in two...Delivered September 23, 2018

As you know, I have been working on the event coming up on October 14,  Seven pm here at the church  It features my friend and fellow colleague, David Garth. 

In fact, it has been so much on my mind, that I have decided to preach about it today.   

If you were here six weeks ago, you know that I preached on racism and David Garth’s talk then, too.  Please don’t think I am one of those preachers who gets stuck on a topic and then drones on and on about that one topic week after blessed week. I didn’t become a preacher remember, until my early 40’s.   I have been on your side of the pulpit for long enough.  I know what I personally like and don’t like. I don’t like single topic preaching. I also don’t like tongue lashings.  At the church I grew up in, the pastor gave regular tongue lashings from up here.  Nice man, but when he preached he made you feel so small and sinful, that you dropped to your knees, and then to all fours and crawled out of worship.

I hope I don’t give tongue lashings, and for sure I try not to drone on about one topic, week after week.  However, I have been thinking of little else, except this event coming up on October 14th. So, I thought I would bring you up-to-date about what we’re planning and also go deeper into the ultimate purpose of the event.  I promise to preach on something else next week when we worship at Chestnut Grove.

The middle of last week, I called David to ask him if he had a name for his talk. I reached him on his cell.  I definitely caught him at a bad time. David’s wife, Debby, answered, “We’re in North Carolina with our children.  We’re supposed to be on vacation.  But, we’re being evacuated.” (You know, Hurricane Florence.)  We’re in the middle of packing, but let me put David on the phone.  I can hold it for him.”  Not an optimum time, right?  But David and Debby are kind and generous souls.  Before I could offer a “Let me just call back later,” I was talking to David.  Of course I apologized.  Then I continued: “Just wondering if you had a title for your talk.  His response? “Uh, how about White Privilege and Racism?  Got to run. Bye.”

Ugh!  Now, David’s title IS descriptive.  It’s going to be about his trip to Montgomery Alabama to visit the lynching memorial there.  His talk will definitely concern the evils of white privilege and racism.  And just so you know David is a talented writer. We’ve worked on writing projects together before.  I’ve never heard him preach, but I’ve read some of his magazine articles, too.  As I say, talented writer.  But White Privilege and Racism?  Doesn’t that sound like it could turn into a tongue lashing?  I wanted this to be a hopeful presentation. I had imagined people walking out of here on two feet.

I called Valerie.  She and I are working on this event together.  She said she would give it some thought, a title for the thing.  However, she and Duane were going to be away for the next week. “Call you when we get back.  Bye.”  You know that line from the song by Carol King—“Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?”  That definitely came to mind!    

Evidently it was going to be up to me to come up with a title. Tuesday morning I sat at my work table feeling sorry for myself and humming, “So Far Away.” Then I remembered something that happened earlier this summer.  I mentioned that in that other sermon, too.  I had been talking to someone from Glendower Episcopal Church.  She happened to mention that just like this church, Glendower has a slave gallery.  In that church though, in that upstairs gallery, there are shackles.  That’s right. Shackles.  And then she said, “But we keep them covered over.” 

That comment just struck me as soooo wrong.  We know exactly what she meant, though.  She meant, “We don’t celebrate that fact-- we’re embarrassed by it, horrified by it. For that reason, we keep them covered over.”

I had my title! I had my focus for the presentation!  We who are white, don’t know how to deal with our racial history, and so we cover it over just like those shackles.  We erase it from our sight line. But the reality of racism doesn’t just poof, go away because we don’t see evidence of it! What David would be doing, what we as a church would be doing—since we are hosting David, is exposing some of the hard, as in concrete and hard as in difficult to stomach, specifics of racism.  So, I decided to name our presentation, Unveiling Racism: A Way Toward Healing. Unveiling.  Uncovering those shackles in Glendower’s slave gallery, uncovering the fact of lynching in Albemarle’s (and also Fluvanna County’s) past. Ta Da! 

So now, I want to turn to our first scripture reading for today, Exodus 26:31-35. Moses is leading a band of Hebrews in the wilderness.  They are hungry and tired and some of them are getting rowdy.  Moses needs help. God got him into this mess. God’s going to help him get out of it.  So, he climbs Mount Sinai to have it out with God. God gives him the Ten Commandments.  But that’s not all.  God gives Moses instructions on how to construct a worship space —a tent of meeting—so that those rowdy Hebrews won’t forget who saved them from Pharaoh.  The tent would also serve as a shelter for the 10 Commandments and The Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark, God told Moses, shouldn’t be smack in the middle of the tent.   It was so holy, that it should be set off in what I imagine was a corner of the tent.  That corner should be called the Holy of Holies. God told Moses the Holy of Holies should be separated from the rest of the tent of meeting by a curtain. Our text goes on to relate how that curtain should be decorated.   

Ok.  Let’s stop there.  I want to talk about the curtain.  In our text, and in most contemporary Bible translations that is what it is called.  A curtain.  But, in the King James version (I know some of you prefer the King James Version) in the King James Version it is referred to as a veil. My guess is, translators from the Hebrew to English changed veil to curtain.  That’s because our understanding of the word veil has changed.  Today we associate veils with brides, don’t we? At least I don’t think it’s just me.  But I know, I officiate at a lot of weddings. 

Bridal veils, as you know, are made of sheer, lightweight fabrics.  You know that if you’ve ever been to an outdoor wedding in high winds.  I have officiated at a high-wind, outdoor wedding.  As the bride walked down the aisle on her dad’s arm, a wind swept through.  Her bridal veil took flight.  For a minute, all eyes went up. We watched the veil dance above us and then away.. The bride lifted up her skirts and took off, chasing after it.  No she didn’t.   I just made that part up!  The veil landed in some nearby grapevines.  The bride continued on down the aisle on her dad’s arm, veil-less. 

Anyway, that’s not what hangs between the holy of holies and the rest of the tent of meeting. It’s a highly ornate, probably very heavy curtain, made of linen. 

Now let’s fast-forward a millennium.  When Solomon built the Jewish temple in the 900’s BC—of course he made sure it had a Holy of Holies.  That’s where the Ark of the Covenant came to reside, just like it had been in the tent of meeting.  And it was separated from the rest of the worship space by what?  A curtain, a veil.   

Is this getting too tedious?  I’m sorry.  Just a little bit more—about curtains and then we’ll move on.  There was only one person in the whole world, the whole universe who had the authority to walk past the curtain and into the Holy of Holies.  That was the high priest.  He did that once a year at Yom Kippur.  Yom Kippur means Day of Atonement in Hebrew. Just an aside here:  Did you know that this week the Jews observed Yom Kippur? Sept.  18th.

During the 25 hours of Yom Kippur Jews remember and repent of their sins of the previous year.  Then they ask God to forgive them. On Yom Kippur, when the Holy of Holies was in the tent, and later, when it was in the temple, the high priest went through a complicated purification ritual. Only then could he walk past the curtain and into the Holy of Holies. Inside he would sprinkle the blood of a goat and the blood of an ox before the Ark.  The sprinkling was one of many acts he performed to demonstrate repentance for community members’ sins. The community hoped that if they were sincere enough, if the Priest followed the rituals to the letter, God would forgive them.

Again, only once a year, a ritually pure human being walked past the curtain (or veil) and into God’s holy space. Bookmark that in your brain for right now.  Finally, we are moving on!  Hallelujah, right?

Now let’s turn to the NEW Testament and our New Testament passage for today.  We read that Jesus is crucified.  That happened on what was once called God’s Friday and now is referred to as Good Friday.  On that day, we who are Christians remember OUR sins.  We ask God to forgive us. It’s kind of sort of like our Yom Kippur.  What sins are we remembering? Our various personal sins of course.  But we are also remembering that Jesus died because we humans could not appreciate his message; Jesus died because we are a violent people who will even go so far as to murder innocents, Finally, on Good Friday we remember that Jesus died for us, for our sins.  He was like one of the Jews’ sacrificial animals, sad to say. But here is the thing.  In what we read today, when Jesus is crucified, the curtain, the veil, ripped in two.  Hummm. 

Remember your bookmark?  The curtain from the Old Testament?  We who are Christians believe that the separation between the Holy of Holies and humans is no more.  Because of Jesus, God’s very self, is un-curtained, unveiled.  A new uncurtained relationship between God and humans begins.

So on October 14th, when we are here to listen to David, and afterwards, Scottsville’s leaders, you’ll know and I’ll know what it is that we are really about.  We are doing our small part to uncover, or unveil our racist past.  We do that with an eye toward tearing in two a different veil, that metaphorical veil, a veil that separates Blacks and Whites in this community and in our nation.  Then, hopefully, a new relationship can begin.

Amen