Mrs. Cline, my elementary school Sunday School teacher, once told us a story about how priests would enter the Holy of Holies deep in the center of the Temple.
Only one could enter, she told us, and he must be perfect and purified. There was a specific ritual which must be carried out to make sure any sin was washed away. He would then tie a rope around his waste and enter the holiest part of God’s house.
The rope was so that his body could be removed if he displeased God while within that place. His fellow priests would be able to pull him out and bury him, since no one else would be able to go into that place.
I remember being horrified and in total awe at the same time.
I wondered what kind of courage it would take to be willing to go into that room. I wondered if people wanted the honor, or if it was like drawing a short straw. I wondered if I would ever be able to walk into that room, and I pondered all the ways in which I imagined I must displease God.
And I felt woefully inadequate.
Fortunately, Mrs. Cline never ended her lessons without pointing us toward a hope in Christ, so I left the class that day with a deep sense of relief that the standards those ancient priests had to live into were a thing of the past and that we had a more realistic, achievable goal set before us.
Of course, back then, I didn’t know I would grow up to be a “priest”.
The first time I stood in the sanctuary of a church, knowing that a few hours from that moment I would be overseeing the sacrament of communion, I remembered Mrs. Cline’s story of the Holy of Holies and, for a moment, felt that old horror wash over me.
Then my eyes fell on the cross and I remembered that the old curtain had been torn in two and that the Holy of Holies spilled out into our world, where we had been forgiven of our sins and given the chance to stand in a divine place we couldn’t claim for our own.
To this day, when I pull the cloth away from the bread and juice, I stand in awe of the work Christ has done in me and in so many others.
Had you been a priest in ancient Israel, do you think you would ever have had the right to enter the Holy of Holies? What are the sins you perceive in yourself that prevent you from entering into the presence of God? How has Christ given you the chance to stand in the place of the Divine?