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An All-Inclusive Journey with Jesus

August 23, 2023

Earlier this year a Lenten display of sandals and other items – a cross, wheelchair, stroller, palm branches, and flowers – helped to connect members of Faith Christian Reformed Church in Burlington, Ont., with the significance and transformative power of Christ’s resurrection.

The display, an example of the congregation’s creative and imaginative approach to worship and outreach, also highlighted the importance of including everyone, especially persons with disabilities, in the life of the congregation.

Already a church with an acute desire to be a welcoming community, this Eastertime effort presented a lively and attractive way to focus on and bolster the biblical call in Matthew 22 to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (vv. 37-39).

“We want to show love to everyone who comes to our door,” and “that Lenten display was one little gesture to say to everyone that ‘you matter and are loved and can be enfolded into the life of our church,’” said Pastor Cara DeHaan.

Focusing on the final journey Jesus took as he traveled with his disciples to Jerusalem, church members were asked to place sandals on a small path made of burlap that led up a few steps to the foot of a cross positioned on one side of the worship platform.

The display was inspired by a sermon series DeHaan was preaching on the gospel of Luke.

The imagery of the sandal-laden path to the cross, draped with a purple cloth, was based in part on Luke 9:51, which says that as Jesus realized his appointed time was near, he “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (NRSV).

With that in mind, said DeHaan, Jesus led his disciples – who likely wore sandals – to the city where he was first welcomed with palm branches but only a few days later was put on trial, scourged, and forced to carry a cross to the place where, on that first Good Friday, he would die.

In her sermon on Luke, DeHaan pointed out how, in many aspects of life, “the only way to achieve something is by going through a difficult thing, be it hard work, emotional or spiritual unraveling, or the sweat of our brow.” In saying this, she invited church members to turn their faces “with Jesus toward Jerusalem, where he passed through death to provide reconciliation with God for our sake.”

“Placing sandals on the path was a way for people to show their commitment to walking with Christ during his final days,” said DeHaan.

It turned out that the original idea to place sandals on a path took on an unintended turn when a church member mentioned that "not all those who travel use their feet." So Faith CRC added a wheelchair to the burlap path to the cross.

Then someone else mentioned the need to include, "those who are too little to walk on their own, and all adults who are guiding children down the path in age-appropriate ways." They added a stroller to the display.

Lindsay Wieland Capel, content manager for the CRC’s Thrive – Disability Concerns efforts, said she appreciated learning of the creative and heartfelt way in which members of the church in Burlington initially built and then expanded their display to make it more inclusive.

“I am struck by the openness of the church leaders to listen and respond to the feedback,” said Wieland Capel.

“So often when people make suggestions or requests around accommodations and accessibility needs, they are dismissed – or, worse, seen as a nuisance. Faith CRC took the opposite approach. They embraced it!”

From the Faith Church website, it is clear that the congregation is fueled by love for Christ and others and has a variety of ministries reflecting this care and commitment. A community garden, support for missionaries, a teen club, a group supporting refugees, and small groups in which adults can gather and grow in their faith are offered at Faith Church.

The church honors creativity and imagination and invites everyone to play a role in worship, as illustrated by the path leading to the cross. On Palm Sunday, the congregation’s children decorated the path with palm branches.

“The kids waved palm branches and then laid their palm fronds down on the path to the cross (and on top of our sandals),” said DeHaan. “This helped everyone remember how the people of Jerusalem laid down a ‘red carpet’ for Jesus to travel on into the city.”

And when Easter morning arrived, people arranged flowers on the Lenten path.

“We laid our flowers on the path to the cross to celebrate when Jesus’ friends came to the tomb to perform the ritual of death and mourning, only to discover he was alive,” said DeHaan. “Our flower-laying helped us connect our heads, hearts, and bodies to the story in a beautiful and sensational way.”

Reflecting on the overall value of the Lenten/Easter display, DeHaan said: “I appreciated how we were able to offer a visual display that showed how we want to include everyone who is traveling the path to the cross with Jesus, and it has gotten us thinking about all the ways we still need to become more accessible."

Disability Awareness Week is coming up in October. Find resources here or plan to attend "Nurturing Belonging: Exploring Hospitality, Disability and Theology" a free, virtual training being hosted by Thrive on October 11.