Monday, July 13, 2015

The power of a symbol

There certainly has been a lot of discussion, debate, and diatribe concerning the Confederate flag recently, hasn't there?  I grew up in the north so I was more likely to see a Canadian flag than a Confederate one, and even though I have lived in Texas for quite some time I'm hardly the one to chime in on the issue.  So I'm not going to weigh in on that debate, but I will say that the whole discussion has served to remind me of the power of symbols. 

While nary one word is displayed on that flag it speaks volumes.  To some the voiceless emblem tells a story of a bygone era of a simpler and sweeter time.  To others the wordless banner tells a story of horror and oppression.  The flag, a mere symbol, evokes powerful emotions.  The very sight of it can call to mind memories both good and evil.  The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Perhaps a symbol is worth far more.     

One thing for sure we have learned is this:  never underestimate the power of a symbol.

Christianity has its fair share of symbols and perhaps those outside of the faith fail to grasp the significance of these emblems much like I failed to understand the significance of the Confederate flag.  Some may even scoff at our silly symbols and ridicule us for embracing with such love and devotion the seemingly irrelevant tokens of our faith.  Some may not agree with us, but certainly the powerful and provocative debate over a flag serves to remind even non-believers that these symbols are likewise powerful.

What may be of more concern, however, is that some believers (present company included) may have allowed these symbols to drift into irrelevance.   Could it be that we have become so familiar with the tokens of our faith that they have lost their power and their meaning?  The current debate has called me to consider that very question.

One of the most meaningful symbols of our faith was initiated by Jesus himself.  Shortly before his death, he gathered at a table with his group of twelve celebrating the Jewish Passover.  He interrupted the normal course of the meal and gave special significance to the bread and the wine.  "The bread is my body," he would say.  He followed that with, "The wine is my blood."  From that night on believers have gathered throughout the centuries - billions of us - and eaten bread and drunk wine and remembered.  These inanimate objects, normally too small to be of any real physical satisfaction, have fed believers in a way no feast could.  These voiceless tokens tell a story.  A story of sacrifice and of love.  A story of forgiveness and hope.  And as each believer eats and drinks who can say what emotions are evoked as the emblems pass through the confessing lips of Christians?

Sadly, these symbols of our faith can lose their power, but thanks to a provocative flag perhaps all who believe can recapture their meaning.   Shouldn't the symbols of our crucified Lord engender the same passion and fervor as a flag?  I suspect that's what Jesus had in mind.

Believer, never underestimate the power of the bread and the wine - potent symbols of an indescribable love.  

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