I don’t really know if anyone realised when planning the series that the passage preached on at Canley Community Church would be so perfect for Holocaust Memorial day – I certainly didn’t and I was part of that planning process. It was Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul writing about the wall of hostility being broken down in Christ.
Doug pointed out that since it seems Paul wrote the letter before AD70, when the literal dividing walls in the temple were broken down, he doesn’t refer to it as a historical fact foreshadowed spiritually in Christ, though now that is how we see it. There was literally a wall to keep Gentiles, foreigners, out of the courtyards reserved for Jewish worship of their God, a wall that no non-Jew could ever cross. In fact, archaeologists back up the story in Acts of a riot occurring because the Jews though Paul had brought a gentile into the temple as they have found signs that literally want gentiles in multiple languages that ‘your death is on your own head’ if they attempt to cross the wall.
But from a Jewish perspective, there was another wall of hostility: the Fortress Antonia which overlooked the temple, heavily guarded with sentries looking out over the temple courts and a squad ready to intervene if any trouble kicked off.
Walls of hostility are about power: power over God, power over people; control. The Jews had walls to have power over God, the Romans had walls to have power over the Jews – and I believe we do the same.
As we thought about Holocaust Memorial day, I remembered that while 6 million Jews were killed in the Shoah, millions of others were exterminated by the Nazis: Polish, Russian, Romani, homosexuals and disabled people. It seemed appropriate that some of our adults with learning disabilities led us in worship – Canley is a place where many dividing walls have been torn down.
Doug spoke of other literal walls internationally: ones that have been torn down: physically in Berlin and metaphorically in South Africa and the US; ones that have been more recently built like the West Bank. But there are walls in our churches, too – cutting off disabled people is just one.
We sometimes exclude or make ‘special provision’ for young people, keeping their peculiarities and needs separate from the rest of the church, instead of integrating and using them. Multi-racial churches and even national conferences are rare, though they do exist. But the biggest wall that our churches are building right now is to keep ‘the gays’ out.
On Holocaust Memorial day of all days, when reading that there is no barrier any longer, that we are one humanity, that God has ended the enmity, preaching peace to those near and far, is this a message we can hear?