“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)
For the people of the living God, the entrance to the house of worship has always been a place of repentance and welcome, holiness and grace. The narthex is the reminder to worshipers that God is holy – completely other, distinct from creation, without sin. At the same time, it is the reminder to us that this God passionately desires intimacy with his children.
There is holy tension in this place.
It is not the unnecessary tension created by so many churches whereby the stranger wonders whether or not she will be welcomed. If you’ve ever visited a new church, you’ve likely felt this negative tension. From the car to the stairs and through the first doors, there is an anxious moment: “Will I be welcome here?” The norms of any community are intimidating to the foreigner. But when those norms are manufactured into a facade of “holiness,” even the penitent can find themselves locked outside the gate.
No, this is the necessary tension of Isaiah in the heavenly throne room. It is the tension of a man crying out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” and that man hearing the relief of the response of grace: “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:5,7) It is the tension that’s fulfilled Christ. The curtains of the tabernacle and temple did not protect the children of Israel from God, but from themselves. Sinfulness cannot survive the light of a holy God – “for the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
“But the free gift from God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (also Romans 6:23) In Christ, “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) The curtain is torn in two, drawing us into fellowship with God – and the curtain torn is God’s own body broken for us. The blood that consecrates us for the worship of a holy God is not the blood of bulls and rams but God’s own blood shed for us.
For Christians, no building is a temple. In Christ, sinful creatures have been made the temple of a holy God. The entry to our place of assembly is a reminder of this holy tension. And “with full assurance of faith” we draw near to God because God has first drawn near to us. Amen.