People Of The Table?

27 Mar

What if the symbol of the Christian faith was not a cross, but a table…as in food, meals, feasts. So wonders the Christian author-commentator-teacher Diana Butler Bass in her blog called The Cottage. In today’s installment, Butler Bass visits the parable of the prodigal son but instead of focusing on the brothers or the forgiving father, she takes a different approach and looks at the meaning of hospitality in the first century, especially Jesus’s apparent fondness for celebrating with his friends, eating with “tax collectors and sinners” and using table fellowship for some of his most important teachings.

It is interesting, she writes, that the setting of his final fellowship with his disciples, on that “night when he was betrayed,” was a meal, the upper room experience when he instituted the sacrament we know as the Last Supper or Holy Communion. It is very likely that the evening was not all hushed tones and somber faces. Surely they laughed and enjoyed each other’s company as they had done many times before. Put that experience alongside meals with Mary and Martha, the Cana wedding feast, dining at the tax collector’s home, breaking bread on hillsides, and as the risen Christ, sharing a meal on the Emmaus Road, etc, etc. So, writes Butler Bass: how would our faith be different today if we were known as people of the table, rather than people of the cross. No one is trying to diminish the meaning and power of resurrection, but it does make for good speculation.

The table of life, of inclusiveness, of diversity, of abundance vs. the cross of suffering and death. Perhaps repentance and even a changed life – resurrection – can occur around a table, too. What if we were a Maundy Thursday people instead of a Good Friday people? “What would it be like if Christians shifted the spiritual import of the Passion away from Good Friday and toward Maundy Thursday,” she asks. “What would Christianity be like if it saw the central act of Jesus’s last week as a meal instead of an execution?”

She concludes: “It would probably look a great deal like this parable (The Prodigal Son parable)” where redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness, and new life all focus around the lavish feast the father orders for his repentant son. I don’t think it is Butler Bass’s intention to start a campaign to replace the cross with the table. The cross is the traditional symbol of historical Christianity and will remain such. But her point does make for interesting consideration. Do symbols change over time? I suppose her musing might have some bearing on her understanding of the Kingdom of God concept. But that’s another column for another time.

Just food for thought.

One Response to “People Of The Table?”

  1. gz March 28, 2022 at 7:08 pm #

    I always thought of us as both a people of the table and the cross, in both we find forgiveness of our sins.

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