Recently I was invited into a discussion about walls. I like walls and find them particularly useful: Walls hold things up, and they hold things in. A church with which I once belonged locally met in a building where the roof was holding up the walls, perhaps a theological metaphor for something best explored in another place.
We like to think that the Church is better without walls. We like to think that beyond the confines of our chapels, auditoria and sanctuaries that the People of God should diffuse throughout the world as leaven or perfume amidst (amongst) the People of Flesh. I am prompted to remember another church with which I once belonged locally who met in a building that did not have walls, just windows of floor-to-ceiling louvers. Light and sound moved in and out freely, although happily the fly-wire kept most of the bugs out. Fly-wire in a window is a useful wall.
But I wonder whether the church/Church has thought about the merits of its walls? After all if walls are such a bad thing why do we not meet on Sundays on the lawn out the front, rather than in our century-old duckpond-stone hotbox/deep freezer?
Walls keep us safe.
Safe from the elements. Walls hold yup the roof which itself holds off the rain, sun, and otherwise bothersome effects of local climate known as weather. Walls do a similar job for those effects which are somewhat horizontal, as well as the aforementioned bugs. Walls keep us dry and safe, or cool and safe, and reliably unbitten.
Safe from interruption. Church services engage with the senses, so it’s nice when we are having a time of quiet or attentiveness that the traffic does not intrude with its sound or its smog.
Safe from embarrassment. Some people don’t like to be seen in church, perhaps their faith is a secret and they wouldn’t want to be seen in public with Christians. Fair point.
When I worked in a prison I liked our walls, although most of them were “fences” if you want to get technical. The walls and fences, and the gates and doors therein, were for security and safety. Inmates were kept safe from vendetta-filling vigilantes, the community was kept safe from men with reputations for violence, and prison staff were kept safe to go about their work in defined and secure locations wherever they were employed.
But this leads me to the story of Jesus the gate; in other words Jesus the hinged-wall. I wonder what we have considered the alternative to be.
Is Jesus a gate, and therefore a wall (since a gate on its own is a bit pointless) where once there was free passage?
Has our right of access to God been denied by the Christ who fenced off the Father and then said “over my dead-yet-powerfully-resurrected body, mate, you need to get by me first”. Is Jesus some hulking bouncer who stands with crossed arms before the eye of a needle keeping us scummy earthlings out of heaven? Whose safety is preserved by Jesus the gate?
Or is Jesus a gate where once there was only a wall?
What was once a blanket denial of access is now a right of way with a door in place: Where once our sin was a wall to keep God out of our lives has Christ provided a way through to the Father once more? Here Jesus says to the world “over here, over here is a way in. Don’t look anywhere else, everywhere else is wall and more wall, but here is the door and you are welcomed through.” In this way Jesus may well be a hulking bouncer, but he’s there to keep the entering saved safe upon approach and to keep the scum of sin and hell out of heaven. “This doorway cost me six dying hours on a Roman cross with my back torn to the bone, take me on at your peril oh Powers of Darkness because these people are mine…”
Jesus, the gate, keeps us safe.