The West Berlin city government sometimes referred to the Berlin Wall as a “Wall of Shame.”
Did you know that on July 19, 1988, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, played Rocking the Wall, a live concert in East-Berlin, which was attended by 300,000 in person and broadcast delayed on television? Springsteen spoke to the crowd in German, saying: “I’m not here for or against any government. I’ve come to play rock ‘n’ roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down.” (Wikipedia)
On 31 December 1989, American TV actor and pop music singer David Hasselhoff was the headlining performer for the Freedom Tour Live concert, which was attended by over 500,000 people on both sides of the Wall. The live concert footage was directed by music video director Thomas Mignone and aired on broadcast television station Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen ZDF throughout Europe. During shooting, film crew personnel pulled people up from both sides to stand and celebrate on top of the wall. Hasselhoff sang his Number One hit song “Looking For Freedom” on a platform at the end of a twenty-meter steel crane that swung above and over the Wall adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate. (Wikipedia)
In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin on 12 June 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev with this, “We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!” (Wikipedia)
Centuries earlier another man, Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, spoke to the Corinthian believers in much the same way as Springsteen, Hasselhoff, and Reagan, spoke to the hope of many living in Berlin. The Corinthian believers erected a different kind of wall, an ugly wall that separated the rich from the poor. “17 But in the following instructions, I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”
Verse 19 is often thought to be spoken with a sarcastic tone. In other words, those who are described as genuine are in fact the ones maintaining the ugly wall of division in order to display themselves as the elite among the young Corinthian church. Paul states that these desire to be recognized as such.
First, let’s address what should be an obvious misperception among those who deemed themselves elite. For the elite, the Lord’s Supper was used as a lever to elevate themselves and remain distinguished from the rest, to appear high above from a social perspective, to be enamored as the cream of the crop. If this is the case in early Corinth then Paul was clearly justified in saying to them in verse 20 “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat!” The eucharist (the Thanksgiving meal that the Lord’s Supper is) is precisely an opposite kind of lever from the one the Corinthians were using. The Lord’s Supper reinforces the intention for unity among God’s creation and is magnified in Christ’s achievement on the cross to assure that unity. When sitting at Christ’s table there is one Elite and the rest are deemed equal, regardless of what the contemporary culture esteems as valued or degraded. Today, when we eat the Supper we, too, all gather from different “heights” in our society and are expected to have left pretense, rank, and financial status behind.
Imagine assembling on Sunday at someone’s house, who is obviously wealthy enough to host a fair amount of people. Everyone is expected to bring food but many who are poor won’t bring the most desirable dishes. Then imagine the hosts, the owners of the house to have a special dining room where they’ve laid out their finest silverware, their most expensive plates, and glassware, and on top of all that, the best beverages are available….but only to those who’ve been invited to sit in the special dining room. The rest of those assembling are allowed to sit on the porches with card tables and styrofoam plates and cups, eating and drinking what has either been leftover for yesterday’s lunch or is ready to be discarded. Many wealthy Greeks were happy to host others who were less well off, but they did so in a way that demonstrated themselves as the elite, leaving the poorer people feeling inferior and often ashamed. Is this how Jesus envisioned the redeemed of the world to behave toward one another? Culture continued to prevail among the Corinthian church. Brick and mortar weren’t necessary for these kinds of walls to be erected between the brethren of the Lord. In fact, those kinds of walls might have been easier to breach. Contempt and arrogance made stronger walls and with the help of culture, they were much easier to construct.
To build ugly divisive walls today, wealth and poverty may not be the materials of choice in many of our churches. Are there other ways we might intentionally or unintentionally be sending signals of contempt and arrogance to each other? Is the Supper we eat in honor of the King, reflecting God’s intention for unity and Christ’s triumph for that unity to be a visible reality to the world around us?
Christ tore down a great wall that divided us in many ways, even before we knew Him. Let’s celebrate that victory with grateful and humble hearts. Let’s ALL sit as His glorious table.