A Piece of the Wall

Me standing on the Berlin Wall, 1989

11 November, 2019.

30 years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down; and I was there.

Well, the wall took longer than one day to actually, physically come all the way down (and you can still see pieces of that most famous symbol of the Cold War standing in museums around the world). But on November 11, 1989 the wall between East Berlin and West Berlin became obsolete. People from both sides of the border celebrated on top of that wall, a symbolic gesture of reunification that would take almost a year to make official.

But November 11, 1989 was the start.

Or rather, November 11 was the next, most visible step in a process that had started long before and would take even longer to come to final fruition. And I was there.

Well, when I say “there,” I mean “there in Germany,” not “there on the wall.” At least not right away. I had classmates at the Max-Plank Schule, Kiel who drove through the night to join the festivities. But I showed up for my history course the next morning.

That same history class had been on a field trip to Berlin just weeks before. The same history teacher who bemoaned the fact that so many student were missing class on November 12th had given us strict instruction not to try to climb the wall, or get too close to the wall, or do anything that might make the guards with the Uzis nervous. You see, right up until the Berlin Wall didn’t matter any more at all, it was a matter of life and death.

Me in 1989

I got to go back to Berlin a couple of months later. The wall was still standing, though the gaping holes were impressive. I got to take my place on top of that wall, a symbolic gesture that all the human power in the world is in the midst of becoming obsolete.

I got my own hammer and took home my own piece of history. My personal memento of the Berlin Wall isn’t very impressive: just a small chunk of concrete, rough on one side, pock-marked, a trace of spray paint the only hint at the graffiti artwork that once covered the 96 miles of barrier.

The real value of that piece of concrete is the way it connects to a moment in history, to a broader cultural story of change and struggle and freedom and celebration. I’ll never forget that Fall night in Germany, while the world watched in disbelief, and everyone walked around as if in a dream. That moment of change–that moment that came so slowly, but arrived so suddenly–that moment of change left everyone in a mild sort of euphoric shock.

And I have a piece of that wall, a relic of history; evidence that I was there.

30 years later, I am reminded again that all the human power in the world is in the midst of becoming obsolete. God touched human history in the person of Jesus. Jesus came, not out of nowhere, but as the most visible step in a rescue mission that had started long before and has not yet come to its complete fruition. Cosmic reunification has been accomplished; we’re just waiting for it to be made official.

The evidence of God’s activity isn’t found in physical relics or holy souvenirs; the evidence of God’s victory, already accomplished and not yet realized, is you. You who belong to Jesus–you are the sign and symbol and evidence that God was here.

Your life may be more than a little rough around the edges; your faith may be pock-marked or vandalized. But your individual story is caught up into something bigger than you; you have stood on the wall the separates heaven and earth and danced. You have partied on the border and drunk the banquet wine of heaven and had your future changed in a moment.

Of course there will be hard work to do as we strive to live out this reunification. Of course the Final Party hasn’t started yet. But you were there. Not there, on that first Easter morning, when the women ran from the tomb frightened out of their wits to bring an unbelievable message to skeptical disciples. But you have been to that open tomb since, and been joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus in your baptism, and you walk away knowing that everything is changed. (And yet you still have to go to history class in the morning.)

November 11, 1989: 30 years ago today, changed history and the shape of Europe as we know it. I have a rather nondescript souvenir of that historical event that reminds me how I got caught up in a bigger story.

You also have been caught up in a Bigger Story. And your day-to-day life, as nondescript as it may be, is a souvenir of a historical event that reminds the world, there is a Bigger Story.

Come quickly, Lord.

I used my experience of the Berlin Wall in a sermon a couple of years ago.

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