Happy Eastertide! He is risen!
This beautiful tapestry depicted above has been hanging in our church during Lent, Holy Week and now into Eastertide.
The tapestry resides at the top of a set of the church’s entrance stairs. Upon summiting it feels as if one is naturally moving forward to join in the depicted journey.
I really like this tapestry. I like the colors. I like the texture. I like the authenticity it exudes. I like the tale it weaves (see what I did there? 🙂 ). I appreciate how it has evoked spiritual reflection in me.
The tapestry portrays a multitude journeying to the cross. The journey to the cross takes the multitude to the village and into community. The journey is traversed via a path between mountainous terrain. It is not necessarily an easy journey into the community of the cross.
However, it is not only on the journey that mountains loom, but the village and the cross themselves are ringed by forbidding, partially shadowed mountains depicted in cold tones. Contrastingly, the village and cross are depicted in warmer colors and offer an open, welcoming space. As situated, the tapestry suggests that the village belongs to the cross and the cross belongs to the village – they belong together and together represent a safe haven in the midst of a context fraught with potential hardships and dangers.
To me, the piece echoes the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites. The mountains look like high waves on either side as the group walks through on a safe path created by God. God makes a way where before there was no way. In the midst of difficulties God offers passage. As I view the tapestry, the scriptures of “unless the Lord builds the house those who build it labor in vain…” (Psa. 127), “thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psa. 119), and the whole of Psalm 23 come to mind.
The village and the cross here symbolized together as a destination point offer an oasis. Yet, it is still to the cross that the people journey and the cross is still a cross. While the cross symbolizes many redemptive things it yet also remains a symbol of difficulty. In the midst of community goodness, difficulties will still be encountered and must be navigated. However, because of the pairing of the village and the cross there is healthy space within which to navigate concerns.
I find it intriguing and important that the tapestry portrays primarily women (many of them barefoot) with some children and just one man. The man is placed at the very back of the line. The women and children lead the path to the cross. For me, this offers a powerful symbol of the hospitable vision of God’s Beloved Community that critiques “traditional” practices of power that have unjustly privileged some and excluded many voices. Instead, this vision communicates that all are welcome, first and foremost those whom the world has both viewed as marginal and literally marginalized in some form or another.
“…Where is the wise person? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe…God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption…” (1 Cor. 1:18-31)
In the Gospels it is women, not men, who first seek to care for the entombed Lord. It is to women, not to men, that the angels and Jesus first appear. It is women who first preach the Good News of the resurrection. Men were hiding. Men too are fully included in the Community of God. However, too often men have used their inclusion to exclude others who are also fully included. This tapestry offers an excellent reminder that God is for everyone, and it is particularly through those who have otherwise been excluded by the world from full community participation that God chooses to make this reality best known.
Likewise, God uses not only the very journeying to the cross and those who journey to it as reality-confounding Good News, but the cross itself takes center stage in miraculously turning injustice into justice just as God turned water into wine. The flowering cross that is showcased in many churches on Easter Sunday is a beautiful symbol of such counter-intuitive, suprarational, God-process. The one that is shown here is from my church this last Sunday.
In the light of the cross and resurrection, we can retrospectively view Joseph of Genesis as a prefiguring messianic exemplar. Joseph is thrown into a pit by those more powerful than he and sold into slavery. While there are many layers to the story that ensues one of these layers is that despite incalculably negative odds, God rescues Joseph over and against powerful socio-political interests that mean him harm and turns his travesty into a blessing for both Joseph and for the greater community.
“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today…” (Gen. 50)
Like with Joseph’s pit and with Jesus’ cross, God has turned and continues to turn symbols of death into miracles of life. As we read in Isaiah 55,
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good…For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord…Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
Because out of great love God willingly submits to a heinous crucifixion perpetrated upon him by humanity, we have the beauty of the resurrection. Miraculously, the thorn has come up a cypress and the brier a myrtle in the form of the cross of death becoming a reminding sign of resurrection and eternal life. As with the birth of Christ as a baby in a manger, as with the compassionate living of Jesus throughout his childhood and adult life, in the cross, the violent and exclusionary methodologies of the world are once again shown to be antithetical to the Love of God that comes from God who is Love. So, in the reality of the resurrection, the cross flowers and life, not death, continually has the final word.
From A Passion for God and from A Theology of Hope, Jürgen Moltmann offers related timely reflections for us on this topic:
“The recollection that God raised the Crucified one and made him the ‘Hope of the world’ must lead churches to break their alliances with the violent and enter into solidarity with the humiliated.”
“Faith does not come to its own by becoming radically unworldly, but by hopeful outgoing into the world, it becomes a benefit to the world. By accepting the cross, the sufferings, and death of Christ, by taking upon it the trials and struggles of obedience in the body and surrendering itself to the pain of love, it proclaims in the everyday world the future of the resurrection, of life and the righteousness of God. The future of the resurrection comes to it as it takes upon itself the cross.”
In the work of Word Made Flesh around the world, because of the example of Jesus, folks seek to journey with and among those who often experience much hardship. In solidarity, we seek to share in penultimate aspects of suffering so that we all might also share in ultimate aspects of life and life more abundantly (John 10:10).