I forget where I was when I first learned one could flatten pennies on a railroad track (not knowing that such an act is actually illegal). More evidence that something powerful had once been there.
Then there is the track that runs behind my parents’ house. We learned to sleep with trains passing at night. And occasionally, I would jump the back fence to walk along the ties and rails. I could get away from people; I could mourn the loss of a girlfriend; I could talk out loud to myself, creating speeches and dreaming of who-knows-what.
I remember growing up, visiting my grandparents in Ada Oklahoma. The actually lived in a suburb of Ada, on a piece of land they called Hilltop Ranch. Across the highway was a railroad track, and often I would count a hundred railroad cars before waving at the man in the caboose.
When we would go into town for worship on a Sunday morning, my dad always told me that one of the town was once capable of surrounding the town with trains, limiting the getaway of fleeing criminals. That railroad is often a barrier, a wall between where we are and where we want to go.
Sometimes I look down the long stretch of silver tracks, but not in anticipation of trains. It’s that long ribbon of rail that draws me in. It creates a longing in my heart. It makes me wistful, and a wee bit nostalgic. For a few moments I become that kid with the time to imagine again. I think about connections I can't see and places I haven't been. I think of lives that intersect with mine because we've both been on the same rail. I mediate on the journey.
But, each time I take that walk in my mind, I am also reminded of how the tracks separate, just as much as they connect. Sometimes, the tracks divide neighborhoods, creating great distances between us. It's like the tracks are a kind of Berlin Wall, establishing barriers to movement. Obviously this is true of many cities or towns where a railway exists, or we would never have heard about "living on the wrong side of the tracks". The tracks create barriers and define territories, whether political, racial, or economic.
What does this all mean? A man named Grant MacDonald says, “Think about it this way: in the world of the rail, enabling travel in one direction, inevitably limits travel in another competing direction. Longing for the city in the far-off place means that we have to sometimes limit our access to what's right next door. Building the infrastructure that makes such a journey possible also makes barriers a reality.”
We could come up with all kinds of spiritual applications with this “train of thought”. For example, Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, tells of another barrier, but it is a barrier broken by Christ. Beginning in verse 13 of Ephesians chapter 2: “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.”
The Old Law was appealing, and folks to this day find themselves clamoring for the days when humankind lived under it. Just as we sometimes stand in our nostalgic memories, remembering fondly the simpler days of childhood, we are limited by the Old Law. Paul says there was a dividing wall that Christ broke down. By this, we have access to the blood of Christ through our own repentance, confession, and baptism.
Some of us are on the right track, but we're going nowhere. We are standing in the reflection of the Son of God, but we fail to seek Him, to approach Him obedience, and to accept Him.