Pastor Tim Smith: Behind the mask

Pastor Tim Smith

Pastor Tim Smith - Credit: Archant

We continue to live in strange, changing times.

Not many months ago, if you'd seen someone entering a shop wearing a mask, you may wonder whether they were up to no good; but now mask wearing is commonplace and just one aspect of the 'new normal' you and I are trying to come to terms with.

Although I appreciate the wearing of such a face covering is done for the benefit of minimising my fellow shoppers' health risks, I'm not sure if I'll ever get used to the claustrophobic feel of having my mouth and nose covered while buying the fruit and veg, and I don't appreciate the barrier face coverings create between me and another person.

Also, for those who are hard of hearing, especially if they rely on lip-reading to understand what someone is saying to them, another person's mask presents a formidable barrier to communication.

Outside of current health concerns, masks or face coverings can be worn for a variety of reasons.

Clowns wear make-up to accentuate particular facial features, whereas superheroes such as Spider-Man wear a mask to hide their true identity.

Perhaps one reason why face coverings are disliked by many people is because we often associate them with deception. For example, thieves wear masks so they can steal without being recognised.

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In the Old Testament book of Genesis, a man called Laban, who was the uncle of Jacob, used the tradition of a bride having her face veiled on her wedding night to deceive his nephew into marrying his daughter Leah instead of his other daughter Rachel, who was the sister that Jacob was really in love with.

The face of another famous Old Testament character, Moses, shone so brightly after he'd spent time alone with God, that the Israelites couldn't look at him unless his face was covered with a veil.

Perhaps the most significant veil we read about in the Bible wasn't a mask or a face covering but the curtain in the temple in Jerusalem that separated the Most Holy Place - also known as the Holy of Holies - from the rest of the building.

The Ark of the Covenant, which symbolised the presence of God among his people, was housed behind this curtain, and remained out of bounds to everyone but the High Priest; and he was only permitted to go beyond the curtain and into the Holy of Holies on one day a year – the Day of Atonement – to burn incense and sprinkle the blood of an animal sacrifice, to atone for sin.

The Bible tells us the temple veil that kept the Ark of the Covenant out of people's sight and reach symbolised the separation from God that was caused by mankind's rebellion and sinfulness.

However, that large veil, which was 60ft tall and 30ft wide, didn't stay there.

In Chapter 27 of Matthew's Gospel, we're told that on the day Jesus was crucified, when he had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

The description of the tearing of that veil 'from top to bottom' is significant; it speaks of an act of God.

Christians believe the sacrificial death of Jesus means there is no longer any barrier between us and our creator.

Using current language, God has taken off his face mask, and he invites each of us to come close to him and know him as our Father.

However, we have a tendency to put the mask or barrier back up; we allow our mistakes to keep us from God.

American pastor Max Lucado writes that often, 'our guilty conscience becomes a curtain that separates us from the Lord'.

But things don't need to stay that way. The encouragement we're given in Hebrews 4:16 in the New Testament is 'let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most'.