Mending Wall, by Robert Frost
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast….
(obviously just the first few lines…find the rest. It’s worth the read.)
Ephesians 2:13-22, a reading chosen for the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude, observed today.
Now in Christ Jesus you Gentiles, who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
When I was first ordained, I served in the Diocese of Rhode Island, under the leadership of the bishop, George Hunt, who was a great guy. My time serving in that diocese coincided with a time of great change in the world, specifically in Eastern Europe, the Berlin Wall coming down. (I’m dating myself.) Bishop Hunt mentioned at some gathering that he really wished to see the wall before it went down, to witness the dramatic events. In short order, a generous person in the diocese anonymously made a gift so he could make a quick trip to Berlin. Off he went.
I saw him in the parking lot of the cathedral a few days after he returned. I asked about his trip. He gave me a thumbs up, reached into his pocket, tossed me a small velvet bag. In it was a piece of cement, a piece of the wall. That was a few years ago, but I have treasured that small bag ever since. It means a lot. It sits on my desk. Annoyingly snarky friends said the bishop may have just picked up some cement somewhere. I can’t prove it’s from the original wall, but that doesn’t matter. I hold onto it as an outward and visible sign that dividing walls can come down. It helps me hang on to holy hope.
I thought about that small gift when I read one of the scriptures chosen for today, October 28, the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude. The reading comes from the New Testament letter to the Ephesians. (It’s included above.) In that letter, one of my favorites, Paul celebrates the miracle of the church, a place where dividing walls can be broken down, a community inclusive of folks who otherwise might have nothing to do with each other.
Truth be told, we don’t know a lot about St. Simon or St. Jude. Tradition has it that St. Jude is the saint of hopeless causes, which has intrigued me, since I suspect we each can identify causes that seem hopeless. As someone who spends a lot of time working with mainline congregations, reading surveys about declining budgets and attendance and morale, I can be led in the direction of despair. Truth be told, and I hope I’m not over-sharing, there are days when work in the church in our culture can often seem like a hopeless cause.
And as someone who watches too much news (fake or otherwise), it’s possible to think that the divisions in our society defy healing. There are days when I’m inclined to give up hope for our common life.
Hey, Jude, how do you suggest we move forward?
Often our world responds to a hopeless, fearful frame of mind by building walls. It was true in the first centuries of the church (Witness the letter to the Ephesians.) It’s true now. It’s certainly a current political issue, with tragic human implications on our southern border. And there are other ways we build walls. Segregated residential communities. Denominational divides. Defended relationships in families. Walls, visible and invisible, go up where we reside and where we work and where we send our children to school and where we worship. An us vs. them frame of mind seems to be on the rise..
The letter to the Ephesians calls us to another way. The way of Jesus, the way of love offers a more hopeful response. Walls can come down. Bridges can span the divide. Unimaginable community can emerge. And if that vision seems hopeless, it’s helpful to remember that our faith is at root an expression of hope. As Jim Wallis has said: hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change. We are Easter people, which means that a dead end can become a threshold. At the end of the week, we will observe All Saints Day. The gospel chosen for that day includes Jesus’ call to love all, to love enemies. That is what saints do. That is how the walls come tumbling down.
Where, when and how in your life have you witnessed the challenges that arise when walls go up? How might you have participated in that construction project? It may seem like that was the only choice, that there was no hope of anything different. If that’s the case, that’s why we need St. Jude, apostle who reminds us that in Christ, dividing walls can come down.
Think this week about ways you might help walls to come down, wherever you find them. And just maybe you’ll be given a small piece of cement to help you hang on to hope when it seems in short supply.
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