A city without walls …

Last week a member of the public had a car accident which took out part of the churchyard wall (up by the Guide Hut). We were glad to hear initial reports that there was no serious injury and wish the person involved all the very best. Paul and the Council Depot guys were quickly on the scene, though a section of the wall has now been dismantled. Please encourage everyone to stay away from the area until it is made completely safe.

At our morning services yesterday we had a reading from Zechariah 2 which included the promise that Jerusalem ‘will be a city without walls…’ – this would be a sign of the prosperity of the city under God’s blessing. The returning Israelites would be so many, and their livestock so numerous, that walls would not be necessary.

Many of us have walls and have no doubt been responsible for the maintenance and rebuilding of walls. We have reason to be thankful for walls – keeping strangers out, keeping others in. Walls are often seen as something to be rid of in the Bible – Zechariah anticipates the time they won’t be needed, Paul talks about Christ destroying the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile through his loving and sacrificial death on the Cross. Then again Nehemiah’s whole mission under God is to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem to protect it against its enemies and to enable the people to start again. And in Revelation 21 when we read about the new Jerusalem we are specifically told that it is surrounded by a ‘great, high wall … made of jasper’, though the gates in the wall are always open.

Walls are deeply symbolic. What is the iconic moment of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe? It’s when the crowds tore down the Berlin Wall. Many a politician has a lump of concrete on their desk that claims to have been picked up that night; I foresee a time when there are as many lumps of concrete as splinters of the true cross, but that may not be for a while. We love to think about walls coming down – people allowed access to jobs, opportunities and education. We may smile at the naivety of a vision of the community without walls – when we don’t need to protect our property from others – but we recognise the power of this vision nonetheless – allowing that walls, like door locks, might be necessary evils in a fallen world. We do need prisons. We do need security. We do need walls that protect. I’m sure the best town planner can’t dispense with walls altogether.

But walls maintain their symbolic power. It’s very easy to feel outrage at President Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border, and insistence that Mexicans will pay for it. Talk about a dividing wall of hostility. There have been other great walls of course – Hadrian’s Wall, to keep the Scots at bay, The Great Wall of China, the ancient dividing line that you can supposedly see from space. Much as we feel outrage at Trump’s proposed wall we forget that we have a very English alternative – that big moat that is the English Channel. Calls to increase border security and to reduce immigration all take for granted that we already have a natural defence against invaders in place already.

I would rather have ‘wall-breaker’ rather than ‘wall-builder’ chiselled into my tombstone. Maybe you saw the news this week that there is a ‘Great Green Wall’ underway for the Sahara and Sahel in North Africa. It’s scale and ambition make Trump’s wall look puny. It aims to run for 8000 km across Africa and to be up to 50 km wide. It could halt the spread of the desert (which often encroaches when trees are chopped down) and provide grazing and grassland and areas to grow crops for hundreds of thousands across the continent. It’s not yet clear whether there is the political will or resources to make this happen but I suspect that The Great Green Wall will do more for the Kingdom of God than Trump’s Great Concrete Folly in the US.

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