In the most special part of the Tabernacle would be placed the most special object of all - the ark. The ark was a gold box which held the two stone tablets on which the covenant laws had been written - so it is sometimes known as the ark of the covenant. This was the place where the meeting or heaven and earth was symbolised.
The word used for the lid of the box is not used in any other way in the Old Testament, and so experts debate how to translate it. It is linked to the word for atonement, and so the NIV says 'atonement cover', while older translations say 'mercy seat'. Once a year, on the day of atonement, the high priest would sprinkle blood on this cover, as a sin offering for the people (see Leviticus 16).
Centuries later, Paul says something which is loaded with significance:
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement [literally: "as an atonement cover", or "as a mercy seat"], through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)
Why did Jesus have to die? What did his death mean? Those are huge questions - but Paul is telling us to think back to what happened on the day of atonement - when a sacrifice was made for the sin of the people, and when blood was brought by the high priest to the place where heaven and earth touch one another. And Paul is telling us that in some small way this explains what was happening on Good Friday.
And how does Paul say we are to respond? With faith in Jesus, that we might receive and enjoy the benefits of all that took place on the cross.
This evening, many of our fellowship groups at HHBC are meeting in homes to share communion together. Let us pray that, as we do this (or as we remember him in other ways today), we will by faith be able to grasp anew something of the significance of Christ's sacrifice of atonement for us.