“That they may all be one” is my favorite work of contemporary religious art. It hangs above the entryway to the dining hall at Wolfson College, where Jim studied at Oxford. As we lived and spent time in the college that was atheistic by design, it was a symbol of God’s presence – whether acknowledged or not – every time I saw this painting.
The painting is by a Herefordshire (UK) artist named Charles MacCarthy. I have never been able to find much information about him but he is described on art websites as a well-respected artist. I don’t know if he is a man of faith but he has captured some amazing aspects of communion in this piece of art (or at least I found them whether intended or not).
In the middle is Christ’s cup. It is completely segregated from the rest of the picture because only Jesus is able to drink from the cup. Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” In obedience to God, Jesus drank from the cup, paying a price that none of us could pay.
I love that all of the cups are simple. This was not a dinner restricted to the wealthy, or the influential, or the wise. It was a dinner for anyone willing to take up their cross and follow Christ.
Different colors and the placement of the cups in the panels convey to me that each person came separately to the table. Each person who sat at the table made the decision to be at that dinner, marking a series of decisions to follow Christ.
My favorite part of the painting is that there is space at the bottom. The last row of panels is empty as if to invite each one of us to join them at the table. Logically, we could not physically be at Christ’s crucifixion. However, Paul writes in Galatians 2:20a, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” His shocking claim is that we were actually there at the cross with Christ. When Jesus gave up his life for us, each believer was spiritually at the cross with him so that in his resurrection we might have access to new life.
Finally, although Christ has his unique position, although the cups are simple enough for anyone to participate, although there are individual invitations to the table, as well as space at the bottom for us, together it makes one painting, one story, one record of redemption.
This Sunday, we will celebrate the Lord’s supper. As we prepare our hearts to receive communion in community, remember we are all part of one story so that we may all be one.
All is well,