When I directed a support and recovery ministry, any time there was a significant rupture, loss, or tragedy in our ministry or the world around us, I would gather us together in a small group and invite people to talk. As a small-group leader, I wanted to know how people were impacted by the trauma and tragedies that disfigured and disordered our world. Suffering requires that someone bear witness and testify in order for hope and healing to occur. Small groups can be that safe place where we can try and articulate the unspeakable and offer an anchor of presence that reflects the concern and care of Jesus.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus does not problem-solve. Nor does he offer pious platitudes. He simply appears, full-bodied and present. He mostly listens. But when he does speak, he actually interrupts their fractured account with a reminder of his story. As small-group leaders, we want to invite people to share their heartache. We also want the discernment to know when the sharing has crossed from naming our struggles to chaotically imposing meaning, blame, and consequence in a way that distorts and leads us to contempt and hopelessness.
The Mystery of the Communion Table
When my small-group leaders gathered to talk about the Sandy Hook shootings, I could tell that people were shaken. In our confusion, grief, anger, and fear, however, we began to slide into taking sides on gun laws, evaluating parents, critiquing schools, commenting on upper middle class neighborhoods, and filling in the unknowns of the story with our own suspicions and speculations. We came into the group with lonely disoriented sorrow, but were now bogged down in angry contemptuous despair. Jesus had the courage and compassion to step into the frantic and dissociated playback loops that kept the disciples stuck in hurt and harm. I did not. But I remembered Jesus remaining with the two men and breaking bread. So I invited our group to a time of Communion.
In Luke 24, the men recognize Jesus during the ritual of breaking and blessing bread. The act of Communion both reflects and reframes what has just happened to Jesus' actual body. I don't quite understand the mystery of the Communion table, but I have experienced its power. Grace breaks into the heavy darkness, and we encounter Jesus. Sometimes it's through the formal act of taking the cup and the bread. Sometimes it's through the more informal sharing of a meal. But, gathering our small groups around the table in an earthy, shared experience grounds us and breaks into the confusion and chaos, the terror and grief. There is something about being at the table together that nourishes and strengthens, opening our eyes to a Jesus who lives and loves in the present, so that we can move back into our lives with hope for the future.