The third practical way Christianity offers for overcoming suffering and evil is a loving, sharing community. Lupe observed suffering can be made “less terrifying when families envelop each other in love.” Certainly the New Testament sees this extending beyond the biological family to the entire Body of Christ.
One of the many places Paul mentions this is in the Romans 12 passage I used to support “returning good for evil.” In this summary of the Christian life Paul states, “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another…Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor…Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.”
Jesus promises this kind of community when he says he will be present when two or three of us gather in his name. In some ways, his and our presence is more important than any words that are spoken. Still the words enrich the experience. When we put our sufferings into words for others, we find we can better understand and handle them. When they respond in love, we find the support we need.
Hearing words in the community also helps us to discern what God is saying to us. This involves not only listening to the scriptures and sermons, but also to the dynamic, transforming words our companions speak to us, such as “I love you”, “I forgive you”, and “I’ll be there for you”.
It is in the Christian community that we dare speak the truth in love. We acknowledge the reality of the evil that brings suffering upon us, and we honestly access what must be do together to overcome this.
Beyond that, Paul calls us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep”. Far too many in our society have no one to share their joys or sorrows, to celebrate their successes or to mourn their failures.
There is not much community in our global society. It has no loyalty to a nation, much less a neighborhood. Individuals compete rather than co-operate, usually with no sense of fairness or honesty. It is only in such an environment that our leaders could use 29.6 trillion dollars of our money to bail out international banks from the consequences of their own greed without any transparency or accountability whatsoever.
More than ever we need Christian community to bring people together over food and conversation. This will not shield us from the inevitable suffering in our world. However, when we share and pray with others, we can endure and even overcome the evil all around us.
My guess is many of our readers are thinking this is not the kind of worshipping community they know. Sadly, this is too often the case. Perhaps that means Christ calls us more than ever to invite others to join with us in creating this means of grace.