My son Bob is pastor of Sardis Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, a small, spiritually progressive fellowship, whose doors are open to everyone. This Easter season, Bob urged his congregation to expand the way they approached the forty days of lent. Rather than the exclusive emphasis on self-denial and on the cross as a symbol of suffering and sacrifice and grief, he suggested that they focus equally on the table as a symbol of fellowship, initiated by Jesus throughout his ministry as well as at the Last Supper. For Bob, whose faith rests on a strong belief in inclusivity and community, the table has always represented Jesus’s invitation to come and experience the bounteous love of God. In that light, the cross becomes not so much a symbol of death as a reminder that Christ lived so that we might also live. The image of the table resonates with me as well. I wish I lived closer to Charlotte. I’d definitely drop in at the Sardis Cafe’.
Printed below is Bob’s Invitation to the Sardis Cafe’: The Season of Lent, Sardis Baptist Church, 2017.
In this lenten season, we will not march toward a cross. And in this lenten season, we will not dwell in darkness, hoping that a miraculous Easter celebration will stir us from our monotony. It seems we’ve tried that for too long. Traditionally, we’ve used these forty days to think about how Christ died so that we might live. We’ve gone without, and given things up, in the hopes that we might know Christ and serve God a little better. And lent, and particularly Holy Week, have been cold and dark and barren.
How about we try something new, something fresh? At Sardis Baptist, we do not believe that Christ died so that we might live. Instead, we believe that Christ lived so that we might also live.
And yes, a cross has been the centerpiece of our faith. but for too long we’ve made it the only focus. And when we make the cross our only focus, we lose sight of the table Christ prepared for us prior to the events of that dark Friday.
For it was at at a table, a lasting table, that now spans two millennia, that steeled the disciples for what would come on Sunday and the weeks to follow. And it is that same table that steels us for the work of God in the present world.
It’s at a table that we find the Christ. And it’s at a table that we are offered a glimpse of God’s banquet. And it’s at a table that we are given the most visible, pronounced, authentic opportunity to extend hospitality to neighbors near and far.
Therefore, it’s a table that will be our lenten focus. We invite you to the Sardis Cafe’, a place of warmth, a place of light, a place of love, a place of hospitality. A place to curl up in God’s nook. A place where there’s room at the table.
Inside of Sardis cafe’, we’ll give thought to how we can invite a variety of neighbors to our table: the doubter, the timid seeker, the marginalized, those who see dimly, those who grieve, and those who are pilgrims.
In years past, we have extinguished a Tenebrae Candle each week of lent. This year, we will light a new candle each week of lent to represent the new neighbors invited to our table, and the new energy their presence will offer. And each week, our table will take one more step toward completion.
Dorothy Day reminds us that we know the love of God by knowing one another. And she says we know each other, and indeed, we know the love of God, in the breaking of bread with one another.
In this lenten season, our journey will lead us from the Galilee to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem to Golgotha, and from Golgotha to Resurrection. And all along the way, we’ll stop at a table in the Sardis Cafe’ to take measure of our faith, and to share both the heartaches and the joys of our journey with one another. And if we journey well, we may just have to invest in a few more chairs for our crowded cafe’.