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Topics: Spirituality | Theology

This Holy Wednesday, consider a new symbol for our faith

Jesus' life and ministry was about inviting people to the table

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This piece is the fourth in a series of reflections about Lent and Holy Week.

When we think of Holy Week, we think of Jesus’ crucifixion. Even though we know it’s all about his resurrection, we can’t avoid or ignore his death.

In a 2011 article, Scot McKnight, author of The Jesus Creed, pointed out some facts about the Roman authorities’ choice of death penalty for Jesus, including:

  • Crucifixion involves stripping the victim in order to humiliate.
  • Crucifixion is reserved for vile criminals.
  • Crucifixion is synonymous with shame.
  • Crucifixion gives a lasting commentary on a person’s life.

Even with its extreme negative associations, the cross has become the symbol of Christianity. McKnight wrote, “The cross, where Jesus bore the pain and sins of others, became both a place of redemptive power and a model for discipleship.”

More on Broadview: How I grapple with sacrifice during Lent and COVID-19

The cross is a symbol of how we die to an old way of living and allow ourselves the freedom to become reborn into a new way, into the Jesus-way of compassion and justice and mercy. Yet the cross is very much associated with the way Jesus died, and this can be uncomfortable. Who wants to believe in a God who would allow such cruelty to happen to a beloved child?

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., posted on Palm Sunday 2019 that, “God did not want Jesus to suffer (let us forever be done with the idea of God as a cosmic child abuser…God does not order, ordain, require or rejoice in torture). No, Jesus suffered because he wouldn’t stay silent about the suffering of others.”

So, an argument could be made for a new symbol for our faith.

Theologian and author Diana Butler Bass posted these questions on Twitter a couple of years ago: “What if Christianity had focussed its attention on Maundy Thursday’s table instead of Good Friday’s cross? Can you imagine a theological vision based on the abundance of the table rather than the horror of the cross?”

I can. It makes me think of the quote, “When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.” Every time that quote floats into my Facebook timeline, I think of Jesus—that his life and ministry were about inviting people to the table, not building walls to keep people away.

What does the table represent? Hospitality. Welcome. Gathering. Nourishment. Companionship. Gratitude. This Easter, in the days of physical distancing, people are finding new and creative ways to “build a longer table.” What better, more timely, symbol for Jesus’ life and ministry, and our lives and ministries?

It’s a new way of thinking about Easter: a focus on seeking redemption through the table—by loving our neighbours—rather than seeking redemption through suffering and repentance. As Butler Bass wondered, isn’t “the table God’s purpose while the cross was Rome’s violent disruption?” And after all, grace is offered freely at the table too.

Broadview is an award-winning progressive Christian magazine, featuring stories about spirituality, justice and ethical living. For more of our content, subscribe to the magazine today.

Sara Jewell is a writer and lay worship leader who lives in rural Nova Scotia.

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  • says:

    So let me get this straight. (Mark 8:34 – and other passages, in case we miss the point) We are to carry our cross and follow Jesus.
    This would then involve being humbled in the sight of God (no self pride), in God’s eyes we are seen as vile criminals and need to admit it, we carry shame as Adam and Eve did in the Garden, and it affects us for eternity.
    Carrying a cross you were condemned, but thankfully, Christ died, that we don’t have to. We were sanctified, justified and glorified at the cross, but we must have faith in His defeat of that death, otherwise it is all for not.
    Let’s not dwell on God sending His Son to die. Rather focus on Christ freely giving His own life up for us (John 10: 11-18).
    We are not called to pick up our "table" and follow Christ, eating only satisfies temporal needs. Oddly Christ calls us to the table to remember His death until He comes again.