Second Sunday before Advent: A Tale of Two Walls

Canon Alan Amos in Geneva reflects on this week’s lectionary Gospel, Luke 21.5-19.

‘Some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God; Jesus said: as for these things you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’ (Luke 21.5)

What is an edifice? A quick look in the dictionary came up with:

  1. a large imposing building;
  2. a complex system of beliefs, e.g. ‘the concepts on which the edifice of capitalism was built.’

I am not about to demolish the edifice of capitalism, oh no! Though I think we are all entitled to examine its foundations and the way it is expressed in our world in real terms.

But what started my train of thought was two things: the Jerusalem Temple, and the Berlin wall. And it is worth pondering what ‘complex system of beliefs’ resulted in the erection of each these two edifices.

In the case of the Temple, it was the ardent desire of the people of Israel to have a sanctuary where they could feel that God was present among them, one sanctuary that expressed the unity of God with his people. A place of worship; a focus of unity. In Luke’s Gospel, the Temple bridges between the old and new covenants; it is there that Simeon and Anna welcome and recognise the Christ. And of course the complex system of beliefs sustaining the Temple was shown forth in offerings and sacrifices. It was so hard for lovers of God to be told that the days of the Temple were numbered, not just because of ungodliness or failure, but – and perhaps this was particularly hard for faithful people to take – because when God visits his people in Christ, then Christ is the Presence in the midst, the Temple. The coming of Christ turns all things upside down, not just the stones of the Temple, as the words of Jesus race on beyond the destruction of the Temple to prophecy the ending of all things and ‘the coming of the Son of Man in a cloud with power and great glory.’ In the words of Jesus and in the understanding of Luke, the time of crisis, of testing, has arrived. We have no security any longer except in God. No edifice made by human hands can shelter us. Hear the Advent message coming upon us undiluted !

The Berlin wall was also a large and imposing structure, meant to dominate and intimidate. Unlike the Temple, it had no vocation to be an ornament. It is difficult to realise, now it is utterly cast down, that it was built to a purpose which made sense to those who built it. It also was the result of ‘a complex system of beliefs’, and it was only when that system began to crumble that the wall itself became vulnerable. We have been remembering in Europe the thirtieth anniversary of its fall.berlin wall wcc

The fragment of the Berlin Wall in the garden of the Ecumenical Centre. Photo copyright, Ivars Kupcis, WCC

Tucked away near the carpark of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, in the remains of the adjacent garden, stands today a chunk of the Berlin wall, brought there as a kind of memorial offering, a marker for memory, by the reformed churches of the now re-united Germany. You can stand there, look at it, see the graffiti splurged across it, and feel…

… feel the cost in lives lost in trying to get over this wall,

… feel the human blindness that went into its construction,

… mourn for the human blindness that still defaces the world in which we live, mars its beauty and harmony. Geneva and the United Nations, despite all disappointments and faults, still stand as a sign of hope for a better world beyond our reach. Not beyond the reach of God : ‘Thy Kingdom come!’ I suppose this chunk of wall is a kind of relic; a necessary reminder of the gap between where we should be as human beings, and where we are. But also in a world in turmoil, a reminder that all is not lost, good can yet prevail and swallow up the emptiness of evil in its victory.

Edifaces; buildings; imposing monuments; they all turn to dust, but the word of the Lord endures for ever:

‘Pride of man and earthly glory,

sword and crown betray his trust;

What with care and toil he buildeth,

tower and temple fall to dust.

But God’s power, hour by hour,

is my temple and my tower.’ (Robert Bridges)

 

 

 

 

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