To the Christian, there is no other symbol that can be more central to the faith than the cross. This logo if you will, wraps the identity of anyone who has ever embarked on a journey to follow Jesus. Through the cross, God does only what God can do. He takes what is arguably the most gruesome method of execution that has ever existed in human history, turns it on its tail, and it becomes the most extravagant display of love the universe has ever known.
While the early church clearly understood what the cross represented, it is interesting to note that historically the cross didn’t become the official symbol of the faith till the fourth century. It was rarely ever depicted in art in the early centuries. It was probably because they lived in a generation that still performed crucifixions. The horrid sights, the haunting sounds, the ghastly smells were all too real to them, it was hard to romanticize. There was just no way anyone would even think of wearing the symbol around your neck.
The actual symbol of the faith at this time was The Table. The Meal, to be more precise, is actually what God and Jesus instates in both the New and Old Testaments.
First of all let me just say, I love the idea that with all the things God could have chosen to be his sign, he chose food. Already, off the bat, I’m a happy camper.
The story goes: God promises to deliver his people from slavery. And the night that He finally makes it happen, He asks them to have a meal. This meal, known as the Passover, is to be handed down to future generations as a remembrance that God came for them and saved them. It was like God saying,”This meal, this is our thing.”
Meals were a big deal in the ancient world. Who you ate with was a sign that you were willing to associate with them. By sharing your table with someone, you were inadvertently affirming that they were a part of your community, that they belonged with you, and you with them.
It is the reason that Jesus gets so much flack for eating with the “wrong crowd.”
By sharing his table with tax collectors (who were the scum of the earth back then), prostitutes, zealots… Jesus was affirming that they belonged with Him and He with them.
On the night of his death, Jesus reframes the meal that God had instituted in the Exodus, and tells his disciples that they should use this meal to commemorate what he is about to do for them—which is to save them. It is interesting to note that Judas, who already had betrayed Jesus at this time, was still invited to the table.
After the resurrection, the apostles were reeling from the guilt of having abandoned Jesus during his most trying time. The first thing Jesus does for them is invite them to a grill out at the beach. It was his way of telling them, “You still belong to Me and I to you.”
After the ascension, Peter gets a vision of a table filled with food a good Jewish boy would never eat, and yet Jesus commands him to eat because God is expanding the invitation of who should sit at His table beyond what even Peter could imagine.
I love the cross. I would never suggest that we would replace it as the focal point of the faith. I can barely get through singing the words “so I’ll cherish the old rugged cross” without tears trying to well up.
I do think that we always need to see The Cross as intertwined with The Table. When we wear the cross alone at our chest plates, it is easy for us to revert the cross back into a symbol dominance and segregation. We have a propensity to use it as a tool to define “us and whoever else.”
But if we wore the cross along with the bread and wine—the way we approach one another, the way we approach those who seem different from us—like Peter, we might begin to imagine that God is expanding those He is willing to associate with, those who belongs to Him and those He already belongs to.
Photo from laurenledbetter.com