William H. Willimon Worship As Pastoral Care (Abingdon Press, 1979)
Communion services can be powerful opportunities to emphasize themes that will be both intelligible and helpful to survivors of abuse. For example:
- Memory. We all have difficult, sometimes terrifying memories. Our memories often compete inside us for our attention. They compete to see which memories will be the ones that will shape our present and our future. Sometimes the most terrifying memories seem to have an advantage. When Jesus said “remember me” he was offering us a new and powerful memory. A memory of God’s love and grace. A memory that can compete with the memories of terror.
- Companionship in Suffering. We feel so alone when we suffer. But we are not alone. We are followers of one who suffered. We do not gather together as a community of the perfected, as people with no needs. We are the sick who need a physician. In communion we remember Jesus’ suffering. Jesus knows abandonment from experience. He knows betrayal. And fear. At his table there is no shame in such experiences. He understands. He has been there.
- Nourishment. God feeds his people with spiritual food. Communion is God feeding his people. God is not an angry, abusive parent that needs us to do things to make him happy. We do not have to ‘feed’ his ego or ‘feed’ his grandiosity. We can bring our true hunger to God’s table. And God will nourish us.
- Solidarity in Resistance to Evil. We live on a fallen planet. It is not an option to merely observe this troubling reality. God invites us to resist the evil that is both in us and about us. We have gathered to remember God’s resistance to evil. What does resistance to evil look like? There as many examples as there are people here. An abused women who refuses to be abused again. A survivor of abuse who keeps doing the hard work of recovery in spite of criticism that she’s doing family laundry in public. We gather at God’s table to remember our solidarity with Jesus in resisting evil.
- A Celebration of the End of Scapegoat Violence. When Jesus said “It is finished” what did he mean? There are many possible answers. One is that Jesus meant that the endless cycle of using violence to prevent violence is ended–which is what the Romans intended i.e. to kill Jesus to keep the people of Palestine pacified. The inner dynamics of this kind of scapegoat violence are exposed in Jesus’ death in such a way that things are changed forever. From now on when we see an innocent person who is suffering, Jesus’ followers will see the face of Jesus. We will no longer blame the victim because we have seen the Innocent One blamed and are committed to living in solidaraity with Jesus’ pronouncement: never again.