A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
No More Walls
March 31, 2016
Easter dawns with an empty grave. The women who come to Jesus’ tomb expect to be able to gain entrance so they can anoint his body with burial spices. They know that the stone guarding the tomb’s entrance will be heavy, so they will likely need some help moving it enough to be able to slip in. To their dismay, they find the protecting stone missing, and the tomb wide open. The wall that protected Jesus’ body has been broken. They rush in, only to discover that the grave is empty. Thus begins the Easter story.
Later that evening, according to Luke and John, Jesus suddenly appears in the midst of his disciples, who are huddled behind locked doors for fear of being arrested just as Jesus had been. Walls and locked doors are no barrier to his entrance. Luke reports that the disciples think he is a ghost, much like their reaction when they had seen him walking on the lake.
Both before his passion and after his resurrection, Jesus ate and drank with his disciples. Both before his death and after he had been raised from death, Jesus showed up in places and ways that were humanly inexplicable. Both before and after Easter, Jesus’ body was marked by the scars of his crucifixion. His message was the same after Easter as it had been before his crucifixion.
Easter doesn’t change Jesus’ program. Rather, it underscores and amplifies for his followers what he has been saying and doing all along.
The gospels include four stories of Jesus appearing or vanishing through walls following his resurrection. They also report that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the heavy barrier separating the Temple’s inner sanctum of God’s presence from the outer courts of milling temple-goers was split open.
Why was the entry to Jesus’ tomb broken open? Not to let him out, but to let us in. He needed no hole in the wall to escape his sepulcher. We’re the ones who need the walls shattered that separate outsiders from insiders, the holy from the sinful, and the living from the dead.
We are inveterate wall-builders. Peter’s suggestion at the Transfiguration is so typical of us all – “Let’s put up some walls and a roof right here!” We want to enshrine our treasures within walls that provide us pleasure and security alike.
Ephesians 2 declares that through his cross and resurrection, Jesus definitively broke down the walls that divide us from each other. Whatever our reason for wall-building – hostility, disagreement, insecurity, fear, loathing – the risen Lord has no use for walls. He moves through them without notice. He shatters them with no demolition permit.
When it comes to politics and security, wall-building is ordinarily prudent, even normal. For Easter people, however, it is anything but. The good news is that our walls cannot stop the risen Lord from completing the work he began two thousand years ago in the humble villages and along the byways and seashores of Galilee. Our barriers to his program have no more capacity to thwart him than did the walls behind which the disciples huddled in fear on Easter evening.
How sad that we continue to cling to walls that cannot protect us, and ultimately cannot separate us. Christian wall-dismantling began in earnest in the book of Acts, when people of all nations found themselves suddenly on the inside, rather than locked outside looking in. Jesus’ tiny band of wall-defying followers became a far greater problem to those invested in the religious, social, and political status quo than Jesus had ever been. The authorities tried to sequester them behind prison walls – and we know how that went for them.
What walls do we still cling to? How do we still try to define our identity as Jesus’ followers in terms of who’s in and who’s out, who’s right and who’s wrong? Imagine a church that lives as though all walls of human division are already broken through its crucified and risen Savior. What a world of difference from the wall-building ways of the world to which we have all too often conformed, despite our claim to be followers of the great wall-breaker! This wall-breaker is also our peace-maker. He is transforming us from divided competitors into a holy household, the abiding temple of the living God. (Ephesians 2:11-22)
Yours in the community of the Risen One,