Flegs, divided pasts, shared future, and Jesus

Excuse the spelling mistake in the first word of the title: it’s a regional pronunciation thing and it’s the word that people were using on Twitter to talk about Monday night’s goings on in Belfast.

If you live here, you hardly need reminding, but if you don’t, you need to know that Belfast City Council voted to limit the number of days the Union Jack would be flown outside the City Hall. Cultural identity, you see. Quite a few of the citizens of Belfast are not fond of the Union Jack; they’d much prefer the Irish Tricolour.

Flags can be a big deal in this part of the world. Especially in the summer – marching season and all that. They are a way of marking out the cultural heritage of your patch.

I’ll leave the political commentary and the opinion pieces to others, but suffice to say that the decision of the Belfast City Council members did not go down well with another section of Belfast’s citizens.

Which led to the situation where on one side of the City Hall, Belfast’s Continental Christmas market was going on, with its Swiss mulled wine and its French tartiflette; while on the other side of the building, a protest was taking place, with people actually trying to break into the building. You’re not likely to see that at any of the European Christmas markets!

Anyway, as I say, I’ll leave the politics to others.

What happened is an indicator of the deep divisions that remain in Northern Ireland, rooted in a divided past. They talk about a shared future, but it’s hard to have that when people have such a bitterly divided past.

Which takes me to Jesus.

Evangelical Christianity has been very good at highlighting the need for individuals to place their personal trust in Jesus and in what he has done through his cross. And rightly so. There is a very personal dimension to the gospel.

But there are also some very profound corporate implications. Like those that Paul wrote about in Ephesians 2. He talked about a dividing wall. Jews were on one side and Gentiles on the other. The Jews, with their law, had the inside track and the Gentiles were off at a distance. Two groups of people, separated by a dividing wall of hostility. A divided past.

But by doing away with the ceremonies and regulations of the Jewish law as a way of approaching God, Jesus broke down the wall of division. People would henceforth come to God through Jesus regardless of their racial or religious heritage. Jews would come to God through Jesus and Gentiles would come to God through Jesus. One Jesus, one way, one people.

‘One new man,’ said Paul. ‘Fellow citizens.’ The healing of a divided past.

It is Jesus who offers a genuinely shared future, indeed, of a shared present. It is Jesus who can bring together not only Jews and Gentiles, but also Orange and Green, black and white, Caucasian and African.

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