There is an image from my recent travels that is burned in my mind that I find so poignant, my mind returns to it again and again.
What you are seeing in this picture is a broken, twisted cross. When the city of Berlin was divided following the Second World War, so many people left from East to West, the government of East Berlin built a wall to stem the tide of escapees. To call this structure a wall is really too kind. It was akin to a maximum-security prison wall, complete with barbed wire, trip fences and guard towers. As the wall was built, those houses and buildings that were close to the wall were razed to clear space for the large swath of dead (and deadly) space that comprised the wall territory.
But there was one building that was not initially destroyed. An old church sat in the wall territory. Built in 1894 long before the war, it had always been known as the Church of Reconciliation. It received its name because at the time of its construction, its mission was to act as a reconciling presence among the influx of workers who had come to this then new region of Berlin. Unreachable by East and West, it sat empty in the wall territory, its spire nonetheless reaching toward the sky. In fact, its spire was high enough that it was visible to those on both sides of this divide. By virtue of its name and location – now quite ironic – the Church of Reconciliation would become a symbol of hope. Yes, someday reconciliation would come. In fact, this symbol of hope was so powerful the East German government eventually decided that it too had to be razed. In 1984 – long after the city was divided and before anyone could imagine the wall actually falling – the church was destroyed.
A significant portion of the Church’s parish was actually on the West side. They held a 72-hour vigil for their beloved church in the days before it was destroyed but their prayers could not stop the destruction. On the East side, the people too mourned the loss of this church. When the church fell, the cross that had been mounted at the top of the spire flew off and landed broken and twisted in a nearby graveyard. Employees of the graveyard found the cross and hid it in one of their buildings. After the wall came down and after Germany was reunited, these employees returned the cross to its congregation. It sits now on the site where the old church once stood.
The cross of reconciliation… In its brokenness, it says so many things to me… I hear the words of the Psalmist and of Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But even more loudly, I hear an echo to this phrase: “My people, my people, why do you forsake me?” In a real and tangible way, this broken cross speaks to me of God’s own suffering as people wound and go to war with one another.
Today, the broken cross sits in a field of wheat, next to a new chapel of reconciliation and near a statue that celebrates the possibility of reconciliation following the brokenness of conflict and war.
I wonder, when will crosses no longer be broken? And yet… I find the broken cross strangely beautiful in its brokenness. Yes, it is broken but it is also defiant. It refuses to be silenced. It refuses not to be a symbol of its name: The cross of the Church of Reconciliation. Maybe the question is not, “When will crosses no longer be broken?” Maybe the question is, “How will we work toward reconciliation?”; “How will we allow our wounds to become beautiful – yes even defiant – witnesses to the possibility of healing and transformation?”
I was in Berlin in 1987, two years before the wall fell. I recall then seeing graffiti on the west side of the wall that read: “The wall will fall, beliefs become reality.” I scoffed at the graffiti artist’s naiveté. I did not believe I would see the wall fall in my lifetime. Thankfully others were more hopeful. Thankfully others believed in the witness of this broken cross: “We may become broken, our wounds may be profound, but someday our wounds will become the birthplace of our reconciliation.”