Other Lives – Black Tables…
Today was book-ended with rituals for me. Each Wednesday, our staff gathers in the morning to spend some time connecting with each other and with God through a variety of creative means, but most typically through prayer. I could tell that this morning’s gathering was going to be different by how it began. One of the pastors read a brief passage of Scripture, and did so slowly and deliberately. Then he proceeded to lead us in a reverse communion of sorts. Instead of receiving elements like one might in a typical observance of the Lord’s Table, we were asked instead to give something to God. And not only give it in a metaphorical sense, but to actually take something we had on our persons and lay it on the table to symbolically represent what we were giving Him. For example, I had a Bible, a phone, a usb memory stick, and some to do lists, so I put them all on the table and offered them up in prayer. I’ll leave you to speculate on what any of those things may have symbolized in my life.
I understand a ritual to be any religious practice that somehow helps one to draw nearer to God, and this was certainly that. One by one, people came to the table and laid the things they hold precious on the table. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but as they placed their stuff on the table, they did just that, put their stuff on the table. Their hopes, fears, relationships, and brokenness – all laid out before the Lord… and us.
At the risk of violating the sacredness of the moment, I’ll share what one person said who seemed to have slipped into the meeting without a single possession on her. After everyone else had gone, she concluded our time by simply saying… “Lord, I have nothing to give you, because that’s the truth… I have nothing to give you.” Perfect.
The middle part of the day was filled with the other various activities and tasks that are more or less typical to any of my days, but the people of God reconvened this evening around the dinner hour. This time, the group had grown from the dozen or so staff to a couple hundred from the church family. We ate. We visited. We made sure children were fed. And then we transitioned into a worship service.
There are a number of things I love about this monthly gathering, but I’ll limit myself here to two. One difference in this service from our regular Sunday morning services is that our children are with us. On Sundays, with a few exceptions, no children younger than high school are in the main service. They have their own corners of the church to go to and connect with God in a way that is tailored to speak to their six year old or maybe twelve year old hearts. But at New Community (that’s what we call the service – I love that too), we’re all in the room. And to see children genuinely and earnestly praising their Maker is more than a little heart-warming.
But what I noticed tonight – especially tonight – was how un-hurried the service was. It seemed that our only agenda was to come before God with praise and adoration. There was no lengthy teaching. There wasn’t a drama or video or announcements. However, there was the ritual, and tonight it would take front and center. As we were led through receiving the elements of the Lord’s Table, we were given the opportunity for the second time that day to lay our frail selves (this time without leaving my seat) before the one who loved us enough become frail himself, so that we might know resurrection power in our lives.
Of course, none of us need to be in a church building in order to recognize our need for God and his redeeming work in our lives. But today, my being in that building, using physical objects that pointed to spiritual realities, seated next to people expecting to see God work in their lives was a day in which the door to transformation was cracked open a little wider through these simple acts of devotion.