The curtain torn, like never before

At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened.’ (Matthew 27:51)

At that moment the curtain was torn, in two, from top to bottom.

For so long the desire for the curtain to be torn open has been from bottom to top. The challenge upwards.

But the temple curtain has been torn from top to bottom, and what has been exposed, laid bare, made transparent – for all to see? 

There used to be a boundary. A wall. A curtain.

Theres a red velvet curtain standing idle in your local theatre at the moment too. Not used. Curtains closed, the show isnt going on. That curtain used to divide the actors from the audience. That curtain was the dividing line of giver and receiver, knowledgable and ignorant, active and passive. The invisible boundary between stage and stalls. The entertained and entertainer. The illusionary on stage reality protected from the audience.Pleating_and_Fullness_for_Stage_Curtains

Unless of course that wall was broken.  If you think the famous Eric Cantona kung fu kick (1994, Selhurst park), your annual Pantomime, and Dead Pool movies – The crossing of the fourth wall has some interesting effects. But there’s a tension, and an unpredictability (except in the movies, for the audience isnt live) when the transgression is done. Its an act of violence, an act of vulnerability. The Panto could be disastrous if the wrong person is picked on.

But it wasn’t always like this.  The interactive plays of the past (see ‘Shakespeare in Love’) , the passion plays – brought the audience and participants together in the shared experience. It was only as the bourgeois took over and the poorest became the object and masks hid, that the separation occurred. (Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, 1979)  The acts of theatre, on the street, have been from the ground up, from community organising, to challenge authority (Theatrical Theology, Hentzel, Church as the theatre of the oppressed, Theatrical Theology, Lugt/Hart, 2014). Social action did not lay anything bare.

As Vanhoozer writes: ‘A fourth wall can appear not only within the church but also between the church and the world’ (Vanhoozer, Faith speaking understanding, 2014) , and too often, he writes, ‘the church before the watching world has been a sorry spectacle, a demonstration of human folly, not Christs wisdom’. (and I might add, love and compassion) 

As I reflect on Easter, I notice the direction of the torn temple curtain, from top to bottom.

If there was a dividing line between church and watching world, church in its worship, its sacrament, in its reality is laid bare. You cant go to Durham Cathedral for worship. You cant even watch online a service held there tomorrow for Easter Sunday. You can watch a priest present the service from their dining room on a white table cloth. The curtain has been torn in two. And from top to bottom. The walls of buildings have been turned to dust. The beautiful liturgies and being taken to everyone, online and offline. What we thought was important enough for others to sit and watch on one side of the curtain, is now important to distribute to everyone, and to anyone. The fourth wall is torn down, and the audience isnt given one gospel performance, the multitudes are accessible.

And which plays, gave you the most enjoyment before this epidemic? The well polished, or the ones with people in them who you resonated with, the friend who had a part, the ones with effort put on earnestly. Agreed. You might have liked or laughed at the polished comedy, but the performance that gave you a deep smile? yes it was the one with your friend in it, or your daughters ballet troop.

The Curtain has been torn in two. Sacrament softly shouted.

And it is less a matter of ‘the church before the watching world, than ‘the church in (though not of) the watching world’ (Vanhoozer, 2014)

There is no strict separation between audience and actor, and maybe there wasn’t in the first place, but now everyone can hear, see, enjoy, share, church. And the church is part of this play in the world. The human condition and frailty laid bare for all to see. The clerical is not coronovirus exempt. A torn temple curtain exposes the ego, the power hungry, the fearful, those in denial, it also exposes to the world, the loving, caring, giving, hoping, comforting ministries, and they are so important that they are accessible.

When the church responds to the word of God as it ought, the church demonstrates the love of God and the mind of Christ, in word and deed’ (Vanhoozer, 2014)

What is important is not that God is a spectator and participant in our life today, but that we are attentive listeners and participants in Gods action in the sacred story, the story of Christ on earth‘ (Bonhoeffer, Life together, in Vanhoozer, 2014)

If you loved before. Love now. Now that light shines from behind the curtain. The equality of humanity and its condition exposed, and the walls have been called to dust.

The question is still of participation, but the story is now available beyond the walls. The stage of the world is full of the story. The improvised action of the gospel was displayed through kindness, social action and care, and they are accompanied by the worship, liturgy and prayer from the dining room, garden and lounge. One physical wall has been torn down. And making it as available offline is now also as much the challenge.

Maybe Coronovirus has become the great human leveller. Fractured and exposed the unreality, the closed and the secret. The system has been exposed in the same way that the church has. There is tension as ideologies have been exposed, sacred cows are exposed, structures have been exposed – often for the fragility, inhumanity, injustice of them, keeping a system alive that rewarded the rich, the extremely rich. And by God will they want that power behind the curtain back again.

The curtain has been torn in two, from top to bottom. And, then there was love. There was humanity at is highest. There was hope. Love for all.

‘No one lights a lamp in order to hide it behind the door; the purpose of light is to create more light, to open peoples eyes, to reveal the marvels around’ (Paulo Coelho,2006)



Boal, Augusto, Theatre of the oppressed, 1979

Coelho, Paulo, The Witch of portobello, 2006

Van der lugt/Hart – Theatrical Theology – 2014

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Faith Speaking Understanding , 2014

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