Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
I was born in South Africa during the apartheid era. I lived there for the first five years of my life, and spent many of my holidays as a child and teenager there as well. It was a wonderful place to be, but also a disturbing one. My experience was of African servants who washed, cooked, gardened, made our beds, cleaned and did anything else they were asked to do. They served our meals and washed up afterwards. But never, ever would they (or we) have dreamed of sitting down for a meal together.
This experience isn’t unique. Black and white in South Africa; Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda; Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland; Sunnis and Shias in Islam; Jew and Gentile in first century Palestine.
Paul writes here about the ‘dividing wall of hostility’ (v14) between Jews and Gentiles. Not only were the Gentiles separated from the Jews, they were also separated from God. But now, says Paul, Jew and Gentile have been brought together in Christ, and both Jew and Gentile have been reconciled to God (v15-16).
The eternal reality of the people of God is that we are one new humanity. Those who trust in Christ belong to him and to each other, no matter if they are black, white, hutu, tutsi, catholic, protestant, sunni, shia, Jew or Gentile. The dividing wall of hostility has been destroyed by the cross.
We may never have experienced these levels of separation or hostility with another people group. But how do we live the reality of a church with no barriers here and now? Are we prepared to do the hard work of getting to know people with different languages, accents, cultures, foods, socio-economic backgrounds and educational backgrounds? Are we prepared to share our lives with those very different from ourselves, because we all belong to God in Christ and we’ll be spending eternity with them in the family of God?
Reflection: What are some of the challenges of having a church made up of people from very different racial, cultural and ethnic backgrounds? Try to think of three practical changes we can make to help us more fully reflect the household of God.
Nat Rosner grew up in Sydney, lives in Melbourne and loves both cities! A former lawyer, she’s now a Minister at St Hilary's in Victoria and is passionate about sunshine, summer, sport, reading and local church ministry.
This reflection was originally posted as part of a series at St Hilary's, Kew
(photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hung, our Feature Artist for April, 2017)