Today was communion Sunday at our church and the familiar words were spoken as we began the celebration of the Lord’s supper:
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19
It’s a ritual I first took part in when I received my first communion in second grade at Christ the King Catholic Church here in Omaha, fifty years ago. I wrote about it in my blog last October:
And every time I receive the elements, the bread and the cup, I remember back to that night.
I remember the communion in Basrah, Iraq, that I witnessed in 2011 as the Presbyterian church there was able to celebrate it because our group brought four pastors with us.
I remember that communion repeated in Basrah in 2012 as we returned with six pastors.
And I remember communion in that same church in March, 2014, as we returned to celebrate communion with them as they now had their own pastor to lead it.
Memories. I collect them like others collect stamps or baseball cards. It’s what makes me Julie, or at least contributes to the essence of me.
Remembering in communion, remembering the sacrifice made for us out of great love, is the center of our Christian worship, its holy essence in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Jana and I just came back from seeing the movie, “Still Alice.” It stars Julianne Moore in the role of a brilliant linguist and college professor, wife and mother of three, who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Bit by bit, she loses the words she is a master of. She gets lost on the campus in her familiar daily run. She forgets where the bathroom is in her home. She forgets the names of those most familiar to her.
And even though her family grieves her loss as she disappears day by day, they love her and care for her and know that she is, after all, still Alice. But in the end, she really is not the Alice that we saw in the beginning. She has been robbed of her essence.
I have seen it happen to others I know as well, real people, not characters in a movie. It is very hard to watch and a feeling of helplessness in the situation is overwhelming.
This movie struck a bitter, minor chord in my heart today because of the recent news of what is happening in Iraq and Syria: the destruction of ancient works of art and ancient manuscripts in Mosul and other places as ISIS deems them idols of the apostate. “These things didn’t exist at the time of the Prophet. They have been invented and must be destroyed,” or something like that.
It’s a bitter chord because it is like a deliberate attack on the essence of who we are as humans and how we developed the languages to tell our story, the grand story of our creation by a loving God. The same creativity he exhibited by speaking us into being and breathing his very breath into us to give us life, has been left behind by those who wrote it down on parchment manuscripts, who sculpted it into winged creatures of bigger-than-life size, who painted it onto canvas or stone walls.
And it is systematically being destroyed, erased, even as the words that Alice knew intimately were wiped one by one from her brain.
I am reading a book right now called High Tea in Mosul by Lynne O’Donnell. She was one of the first journalists to reach this ancient city after the war ended (it never really did, did it?) after the invasion in 2003. I haven’t finished it yet, but in reading it this week I came to a part that just made me want to cry out.
Mosul is the ancient Ninevah of the Bible. The Ninevah that God sent the reluctant prophet Jonah to in order to preach his word of repentance. There is – I mean was – a temple there where Jonah was said to be buried. Lynne talks about it standing there still as testament to the power of the human spirit to hang on even in the hardest and darkest of times.
The book was written in 2007. In 2014, this temple of Jonah was destroyed.
As Alice’s family learns early on after her diagnosis, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.
I don’t know the cure for the scourge of evil that is ISIS. And bit by bit, this disease is robbing our human family of its collective memories, the ancient artifacts that tell our story.
And so I cry out with my brothers and sisters who live there and who watch it happen and are helpless to do anything,
How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Habakkuk 1:2
And then I remember the bread and the cup of sacrifice. And I say thank you for the gift of memory. And I write it down and look at the pictures I have taken of men and women and children.
And I pray.