A couple of years before I was born, my parents witnessed the construction of a very significant wall. I want to tell you about it, because of the wall that features in the Epistle to the Ephesians. There Jesus is described engaging in a bit of cosmic vandalism: He is our peace, writes “Paul” to the Ephesians, He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.
It was 1961 and my parents were living in West Berlin as international relief volunteers – a tense time in the history of East West relationships when thousands of refugees where pouring in from East Germany. On Sunday 13th August 1961 my parents were rostered off from their work in a refugee centre and set out to visit museums in East Berlin. When they came to the underground station, however, they discovered that there were no trains running to the east. Not quite understanding what had happened they went to Potsdamer Platz, that public square in the centre of the city, the point where the Russian, British and American sectors met. There they learnt that the border had been closed. They saw a barbed wire barrier rolled out. People were crowding up against it shouting abuse and throwing coins at a group of rather self-conscious looking East German soldiers on the other side. Behind them the paving stones on the road had been dug up to form a barrier – a barrier which would later become the infamous Berlin Wall.
So my family witnessed the establishment of that wall which defined the age of the Cold War. A dividing wall, a wall of hostility and separation, a sad symbol of human difference and intractability.
Jesus must have been enjoying himself 28 years later on the 9th November 1989 when people swarmed over that wall, climbed on top of it and eventually broke it down. Jesus must have enjoyed that because he is our peace, the breaker of walls.
The specific wall that Jesus breaks down in Ephesians is perhaps not obviously relevant to us – it is that barrier between Jews and Gentiles represented by Torah, the Jewish Law.
In this passage we can hear echoes of the “great debate” that rattled on in the early church. In order to become fully Christian, do “Gentiles” (non-Jews) first need to convert to Judaism taking on the ritual requirements such as circumcision for males and food restrictions? Jesus himself was very Jewish! Surely anyone who seeks to be part of Jesus’ movement must at least understand if not be a part of his own faith tradition? [Daniel Smith Christopher, Jonah, Jesus and other Good Coyotes p. 139]
“No,” writes “Paul” to the Ephesians, “because Jesus breaks through that barrier, demolishes that wall. He has abolished the law with its commandments and regulations.” In other words you don’t have to be Jewish to be Christian.
That’s not a big issue for you and me, that wall has long crumbled away. On the whole, Torah is no longer the wall that divides us. What is? Where is Christ needed today with his spiritual sledgehammer, to break walls and make peace?
I’m sure you are aware of the wall being built right now in the West Bank – 703 kilometres of barrier along the 1949 “Green Line” between Israel and Jordan. The Israeli government says it is necessary for their security, but what a tragedy. In the absence of the Berlin Wall, the world now has another wall to represent our inability to be at peace with one another – a wall that epitomises the central human conflict of this age – a wall against the Moslem world.
Then of course there is Wall Street. What wall is Wall Street named after?
Wall St runs east to west across the southern tip of Manhattan. This area was settled by Europeans in the 17th century – it was part of a Dutch Colony, and the settlement was called New Amsterdam. Wall St began its life as the northern boundary of New Amsterdam. In the 1640s picket fences marked the plots and residences that abutted the boundary. Later, the Dutch West India Company, using African slaves, constructed a stockade there as a defence against attack from Native American tribes. By 1653 it had become a strengthened four metre wall of timber and earth, fortified by palisades. In 1685 surveyors laid out Wall Street along the line of the stockade. The wall was finally dismantled by the British colonial government in 1699. [Wikipedia]
Subsequently, Wall St became a place where traders and speculators would gather under a tree to do business – a trade which eventually evolved into the New York Stock Exchange. George Washington took the presidential oath of office on Wall Street in 1789. And in the same year, Wall St was the location for the passing of the US Bill Of Rights. On the site of a wall built by slaves to keep out Indians – how ironic!
These days Wall St stands as a great symbol of Western Capitalism. There is so much that divides people from one another in this world, but is not wealth one of the greatest? Has Wall St gone from being a physical barrier to keep people apart, to a symbolic barrier that divides up the world?
Christ comes to break down the walls. How does he do that?
He united us when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall…
The blow which shatters the wall is not one delivered by Christ, it is one inflicted upon him. Let’s sit for a moment with crushing mystery of that. He breaks the wall by being broken. But out of the terrible destruction of that wise and compassionate man comes the creation of a new humanity. He made peace by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. He breaks by being broken, he creates by being destroyed.
Compare that to the latest round of suicide bombings in Indonesia. What is achieved in these horrors? They blast through walls with their lives and yet nothing creative emerges, only more hard division and hatred. When Jesus gives his life, God’s creativity comes flooding in and a brand new possibility is born for people who once were divided.
Jesus breaks down the wall described in Ephesians not so that all the Gentiles can become Jews or all the Jews can become Gentiles. No, but so that together in their difference they can become a new community, the body of Christ.
East West, Left Right, Rich Poor, Moslem Jew Christian – Christ help us to break down the walls between us and to make peace. Help us to grow together into God’s new humanity.