Breaking down the walls that divide us


In the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, there is a small chapel, bare except for a large piece of rock.  A piece of rock that’s split straight through the middle.  The chapel is right underneath the place where Christians believe that Jesus was crucified.  The rock is the part of the bedrock on which the cross may have stood. That empty place is called the chapel of Adam.  It is named for the person that embodies all human beings.

This chapel is empty.  You’d miss it, if no-one told you it was there, walk past it because it only contains the bare rock of Calvary.  That is all there is, in the chapel of the father of the human race.  For me, that empty place is a strong reminder of how the power of Christ’s crucifixion has broken down the barrier between God and man, literally by splitting the bedrock of Calvary.

In this morning’s psalm—Psalm 51—the psalmist speaks with passion of that barrier that once separated man from God.  He describes his life that is lived apart from God, a life that to him is full of guilt that stands, dark and threatening, like a wall between the writer and God.  So deep is his feeling of guilt that the writer asks God to turn his gaze from his sinful life (51.9).  And yet, although he knows himself far from God, the writer still knows that God is inextricably linked to his own story, knows that ‘God desires truth in the inward parts’ (51.5).

At the same time, he also speaks of the profound realisation that there can be a way out for those who find themselves far away from the love of God: ‘I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me’, the psalmist prays (51.3).  Where we confess our sins, there is a way back to God; where we seek God’s help, there life and spirit can be renewed, the psalm singer has experienced.

And all that follows is God’s work: beyond confessing that he stands in need of God’s healing, there is nothing more the psalmist can do himself to improve his lot.  God does not desire sacrifices for sins, the psalmist knows, ‘for else he would give it to him’ (51.16).  God does not delight in burnt offerings for sins, either.  Rather, ‘the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit’, the acknowledgement of human sin, in the certain hope that God will pardon, the psalmist proclaims (51.15-17).

For me one of the most striking features of the chapel of Adam in the Holy Sepulchre is the fact that there you can see the bare bedrock on which the cross of Jesus is said to have stood.  Centuries later, it is still split in half.  For at the moment of Christ’s death the very rocks that supported the cross were split, we read in St Matthew’s account of the Passion.  Just as the curtain before the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple—the barrier that kept apart the sacred and the sinful—was rent asunder, so the ‘rock of ages’ was cleft for us, and remains there in Adam’s chapel as a visible reminder of our salvation.

At the moment of Christ’s death, the wall of separation, that dark wall of depression and guilt, came tumbling down, and a new relationship between God and man came into being.  A way of life that is based on our understanding that in the face of sin we are frail and helpless without God.  A way of life that is framed by the words of confession prayed by our psalmist—‘I acknowledge my transgressions’—the very words that stand at the beginning of the way to forgiveness.  A way of life that promises new hearts and spirits made new to those who acknowledge their sinfulness and seek God’s friendship.  A way of life that encourages us to become people who trust the saving work of Christ, people who know that it is in turning away from sin and believing the gospel, that we are made whole.

Photo credit: Wikimedia, The Chapel of Adam

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