Remembrance and Community

After a full Saturday, I ask that you walk through it with us in reverse, for that is how I found the message of today that birthed the title of this blog.

Marilyn, Grace, Reem (refugee from Mosul, Iraq, who serves at OLD), Sheryl, Evangeline, Rola, me

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you,[b] and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:3-9)

We ended our day at a beautiful treasure in Beirut, the Beirut National Museum. Like many museums housing artifacts of the ancient world, the treasures housed within its stone walls remind us of just how old the world is. Civilizations left markers – remembrances – that people have walked these lands for way longer than the average attention span of smart-phone-wielding 21st century folk would care to think about. We are people who live in the moment. Yesterday’s news is, well, yesterday’s news. But even as we have marked our days here on this trip with data-draining amounts of photos on those smart phones to remember, the ancients left markers as well so they would be remembered.

Tombstone of Theoros and Alaphatha, Beirut National Museum

From a Roman period tomb, these words are carved in the lid of the sarcophagus: “Theoros. Alaphatha who purchased and built [this tomb].” Clearly, Theoros and Alaphatha wanted to be remembered, and on this day some twenty centuries later, they are. In a museum, a place that stands filled with what has happened in the past, we remember: Here is a marker that is witness to the fact that Theoros and Alaphatha walked this earth in this place.

Two-sided sheet of Syriac hymns, ink on paper, Beirut National Museum.

There are mummies in this museum that date to the 13th century, CE, found in a nearly inaccessible cave. Not only the mummies themselves, but due to the climate in that area, clothing and even paper items with ink writings were preserved. There apparently was a community of people who left a nearby region due to the clashes between Crusaders and Muslims for the control of that area and settled in these caves for safety. The finding of these tombs and relics helps us to fill in a bit of history and remember them. We may not know their names like Theoros and Alaphatha, but we know they could read, they could write (hymns!), they could sew and embroider, they sought refuge in times of crisis, and they lost children at a very young age.

These things struck me as I wandered the museum because we had just come from a visit to the Our Lady Dispensary (OLD), a ministry partner that is supported by The Outreach Foundation. Founded in the 1980s during the midst of the Lebanese Civil War, it is located in a second-story apartment in a Christian area of Beirut that houses the very poor. If Jesus was walking the earth today instead of first century Palestine, this is most likely where he would have pitched his tent! In the more than thirty years since this ministry moved into this neighborhood, they have served waves of poor refugees who have knocked at their doors. Where once it was Lebanese trying to survive in the conflict that raged from 1975-1990, now it is more likely Syrians who started arriving in 2012 and Iraqis in 2014.

Knock on the door and you will meet Grace Boustani, the social worker who is herself a survivor of the Lebanese war. Her family fled to Canada, but Grace felt the call to return to her homeland to serve. An angel of God if ever there was one, no one has been more aptly named. With support from ministry partners, Grace and OLD have provided relief for up to 1,000 families monthly over the past six years. Rola al Kattar, another angel of God, serves along with Grace at OLD in providing trauma recovery programs for women and children.

Today Grace and Rola introduced us to two Syrian families. Khadija from Raqqa and Aisha from Aleppo have been in this poor neighborhood for two years and one and half years respectively. Each woman has two sons. Both Muslim, they did not know each other except that one lived on the first floor of an apartment, and one lived below. The community they have formed, almost combining families really, came out of tragedy. Khadija’s then less than two-year old, Sami, got hold of a lighter and lit the crib of his baby brother on fire, burning the baby severely. As with most refugee families, there are limited resources. Fathers find only day work in Beirut. There is no health insurance. Daily bread is not assured. How would they get treatment for this severely burned child?

Aisha, whose home and family were also impacted by the fire in the building, stepped forward to help. She would care for Sami, along with her own two sons, Mahmoud and Abed al Kadr, while Khadija went north to Tripoli to find emergency care and surgery for the baby. “I put myself in her shoes: What if this had happened to me? Would anyone step forward to help?”

Looking at these two women who have endured so much in a world where it seems that everyone around you is only thinking of self-survival, there was a bond of community – of family – that reminded us of the empathy, the compassion, that Jesus modeled. Aisha, a woman with nothing, gave all she had to care for Khadija’s Sami.

The reason we can know – and remember! – their story is because of OLD. Aisha came seeking medical help for her own sons, caring also for the son of another. When Grace heard the story, she and OLD have provided the small relief they can. In a poor community in the midst of a refugee crisis where so many need so much, OLD stands in the gap where it can to serve the Khadijas and Aishas of this world. Praise God for the faithfulness of this ministry and those who support it! As the woman in that passage from Mark is remembered by us today for something more beautiful and sacrificial than a tombstone in a museum, Aisha’s love and the love of Grace and Rola and OLD will be remembered by the God who created them. We remember them with this story and are grateful to carry it to you.

Rev. Najla breaks the bread in remembrance

I said we were walking this day in reverse. We began it this morning with the culmination of the women’s conference as we gathered for a communion service led by Rev. Najla Kassab. Marilyn read the words of institution for us from 1 Corinthians, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Rev. Najla lifts the cup in remembrance

We celebrated communion this morning with the community of faith, the same community of faith that has birthed ministries like OLD and serves through the hands of people like Grace and Rola and Najla in the name of Jesus, whom we remember in the breaking of the bread and covenant of the cup. The only marker is a simple plate and plain cup, not a painted tomb in a museum. The words remind us. The community remembers. May it ever be.

P.S. This is a long narrative, but I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you a bit more about Reem. She is a refugee (with her family) from the Mosul area of Iraq who has been in the neighborhood for three years. They are stuck here, refusing to return to Iraq (there is nothing to return to, all is lost there for them) and rejected for emigration by other countries. It is a difficult existence for people like Reem.

Even in such difficult conditions, Reem, who was embraced with small bits of hope from OLD, now serves with OLD as a kind of right-hand to Grace. She knows and reaches out to hundreds of Iraqi families in this poor neighborhood. Grace to grace, that is the story of Reem and OLD.

Bursting at the seams

Steve & I collaborated on this one…

Our team with Rev. Mikhael and Nadej Sbeit, their daughter Nour, and their Korean missionary partners. (Sidon)

We began this day driving down to Tyre to visit the Presbyterian church there. As we approached Tyre, we saw many groves of trees laden with ripe oranges and bananas. Then we began to see trucks filled to overflowing with this fresh fruit, and then the fresh fruit and vegetable stands with fresh produce spilling out of crates and baskets.

First grade Syrian students from the refugee camps squeezed into a classroom at the back of the sanctuary. (Tyre)

With these images before our eyes, we arrived at the church in Tyre. It is a small church with a few rooms, the sanctuary and the pastor’s house. Every nook and cranny of the church had been converted to classrooms for Syrian refugee children. Just when we thought there could not be any place left for other activities, we were taken up the stairs of the house to the roof. There was a small room accessed from the roof that had been converted to a classroom for sewing and cosmetology training. In here the Syrian women create wonderful textile objects and other artistic decorative projects. After our tour of the ministry of this small church, we sat on the roof having coffee, tea and sweets, while we listened to some of the women describe their projects and teaching methods.

We met as the family of God on that roof. We were Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese and American. We were Muslim and Christian. There was even a family in a combination of these identities who are being cared for as they seek asylum to begin a new life together in a place of love and acceptance. Even as they are served, they serve. The wife, who has benefited from the sewing classes at this church, will now become the teacher who will pass on the knowledge of what she has learned to benefit others.

Hanan and Julie with some of the items she has handmade, which will soon take up residence in our kitchen. (Tyre)

Another woman, Hanan (which means care and love) went on to explain the importance of community in these classes. She has learned much herself and will begin teaching advanced knitting classes. But the most important thing she has discovered is the interior knowledge that she has worth as a human being. She is not just a refugee, but a beloved child of God. Her worth does not come from what she can make with her hands, but simply because of who she is. She and the others are good women and will give a good picture of who Syrians are. In her words, “When we knit, we take a small thread and turn it into something great.” In the circle of knitters, they are free to be open and to share their troubles. As a Muslim, she has found a family here in this church.

Here was a church literally bursting at the seams with classrooms and workrooms, so much so that the only place left for us to sit and have coffee was the roof! And there we heard about the other programs and ministries the church was involved in.

The Korean missionary couple in Sidon help our two Jacks purchase some of the needlework produced by Syrian refugee women.

We ended our day visiting the church in Sidon, just north of Tyre, where Pastor Mikhael Sbeit and his wife Nadej, along with a Korean missionary couple, shared their work from similar projects with Syrian women. Just like in Tyre, not only are physical objects made as a result of these projects, but human dignity and value are discovered and koinonia blossoms.

As our time in Lebanon draws to a close, this could not be a better image for we, too, are beginning to burst at the seams literally and figuratively. The incredible hospitality of the people has left our stomachs full, but not as full as our hearts and minds. Images of God’s people filled our minds as evidence of God’s love filled our hearts.

Love like Francis…just like the sisters

Mt St Francis Love like FrancisBeyond this, there is a desire for immediacy sustained by consumerism (and reinforced by aspects of information technology) that tends to encourage a memory-less culture without a sense of historical identity. – Philip F. Sheldrake (The Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality, chapter 26, page 461, edited by Arthur Holder, Blackwell Publishing, 2005)

In preparation for the journey ahead into the Masters of Arts in Ministry program at Creighton University which begins next week, I am reading some materials assigned by a professor to get ready to dive into the study of Christian spirituality through ancient writings of monks and martyrs. The quote above struck me as I thought back on a quick trip to Dubuque, Iowa, last week to visit my Aunt Carolyn, a 60-year member of the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Holy Family.

Mt St Francis Xaveria TermehrJana and I spent two nights and three meals with the sisters of this order. As opposed to an environment of the “immediacy sustained by consumerism,” we found ourselves in a place of a long vision forward sustained by faith. We met so many of these living saints now retired – if that is a word that can be associated with those whose calling is eternal – in the motherhouse of this order founded in the 1870s in Germany. Foundress Sister Xaveria Termehr is interred in the same cemetery as my grandmother Bea Thirtle, under a plain headstone and surrounded by others like it of her daughter-sisters who followed her into this order and lived their lives in service to God’s kingdom.

It is not an ancient order like those whose words I will read in my theology class, but as I learned in my short visit with heart open to their story, it is a servant group of women who have been called into it. Aunt Carolyn gave me her histories so I could read up on them in the days to come.

Mt St Francis mission statementThey are a Franciscan order after Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi. The images of these two are everywhere in the house and also in the close-by Shalom Spirituality Center which was the original Mount Saint Francis motherhouse. When I was a little girl and first visited my aunt as she was then known, Sr. Mary Edith Ann, they wore brown habits like Francis. Their mission statement was framed on the wall: Rooted in the Gospel and in the spirit of Francis and Clare, the Sisters of St. Francis live in right relationship with all creation. The culture of their patron saint is a living witness to those walking today.

They have founded schools and hospitals and elderly homes. They have served the immigrant in a new land both in Germany where they started and here where they have been planted since crossing the sea. They build wells in Africa. They have had a presence in China and the east. And in all those places and to this day, these sisters in Christ have served tirelessly and selflessly those in need of healing and resting and learning. Those with gifts of administration have led the institutions they built.

Mt St Francis b&w of SAC GRandma and Mom Mt St Francis photo redone with us

We went to a now-closed church in Dubuque, Saint Mary’s, which once had an active school, a convent for the sisters and of course, the church. In hand I carried an old black and white photo taken in 1962. There is Aunt Carolyn in her pre-Vatican II habit, my mom Jeanne (holding the hand of an unseen sibling that I believe is Susan) and their mom Bea, my grandmother. They are standing on the playground between the convent and the church. We decided to recreate the photo in the same spot (no more fence or playground equipment) with the same house in the background as the 1962 picture. As we were trying to figure out how to take it, a young woman came up to see what we were doing. It turns out she is a resident in the old convent, now known as Maria House. The building that once housed the sisters like my aunt, is now a home for women coming out of the prison of addiction. This woman was eager to tell us her story. Caught in the cycle of alcoholism by parents of brokenness, she has not had custody of her children for years. But with the help of this project of the Franciscans, she is clean and sober and about to get her children on a five-day-per-week basis. And then she will transition into the new apartments next door: the former school where Aunt Carolyn spent her early years teaching.

We saw how resourceful this group of nuns has been in the years since they began these ministries. A hospital built in the 1940s is now an apartment building. Saint Mary’s Church is being turned into a neighborhood center for small offices and gatherings. The school will be a longer-term residence for those women being freed from the bondage of addiction. These women who took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, have lived into those vows by pouring into the lives of others.

We couldn’t go anywhere in Dubuque without someone coming up to Aunt Carolyn to say hello. Either she taught them as children in school or preschool or daycare, or had cared for their aging parents at the Stonehill facility where they lived or rehabbed. They all knew her. And I imagine that other sisters are known in the community in the same way.

Mt St Francis last supperWe closed our visit with a short trip to the Clare House dining room of Mount Saint Francis. In this new long-term residence for the elderly and infirm sisters, there is a beautiful depiction of the last supper done in intarsia by a very talented sister-artist. In this three-dimensional picture of the table of community we find Jesus and his apostles. Not just the ones you know were there like John and Peter, but others whose lives speak to the history and tradition of Francis and Clare, those who served and advocated for the poor and unheard. There is Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day. There is Oscar Romero. And there is Mother Xaveria Termehr. She is seated at the table with Jesus, and even this evening her daughters will be gathered to pray before they share their common table. A tradition that continues under the eyes of a community and communion of saints.

I claim as my own now their sense of historical identity, even as their order now diminishes in size. Through my Aunt Carolyn I will carry the stories she shared with us in those precious hours. As I read the history books she left with me and read the stories of the saints in my theology class, I will be sustained and encouraged by the culture of this way of life. The religious orders may not look in the future like they looked in the past, but as long as I – we – remember, their traditions will carry on.

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

What hurts them, hurts us

Peace hands worldIt is the day after another election here in the U.S.


Personally, as a liberal in a conservative state, it was a tough night politically for the people I supported. But I woke up this morning and the sun was up and God was still on the throne. God’s mercies are new every morning!

And it was not a total disappointment for me and others. The people of our state voted to raise the minimum wage, and the people of our city voted to approve a bond issue that will improve the facilities of older schools in our main district and also build new ones to meet the responsibility to educate future generations.

I guess the best part of an election being over and done with is that the airwaves will now be free of the millions of dollars worth of advertising spent telling us over and over again why that person is a no good, dirty, crime loving, tax raising, hog castrating, gun hating, gun loving, idiot who speaks out of both sides of the mouth. There has been nothing uplifting about any of it. And the waste of money in such a way is just mind boggling to me. Think how many more schools could have been built, or people fed, or cancers healed, if the money spent in an election cycle were used for those kind of building up activities, instead of the tearing down kind.

As I was driving home in the early evening before coming back to church for a meeting, I was listening to NPR. It was too early for any election coverage, but I thought they might be doing some commentary. I was going to be at that meeting during prime time coverage so I was just a bit anxious I guess to hear something now. But what I heard instead was this report about happenings in Iraq’s struggle with ISIS:

The tribe mentioned in this story is the Jubbour tribe, who are Sunni. They are trying to protect themselves from ISIS, who are also Sunni. But as the headline says, “We are not slaughterers.” The Jubbour see ISIS as an ideology not for anyone’s good; they are just a killing machine. The Jubbour reject this ideology and name it for what it is. They have also paid a very heavy price.

What struck me most about the story, however, is the reaction of a neighboring village of Shiite Muslims. The schism between Sunni and Shia happened almost at the beginning of Islam, once Muhammad had died. It is a deep divide of long standing.

This Shiite village, so the report goes, has been working in defense of and to protect their Jubbour neighbors. Why? “Because what hurts them, hurts us.”

What hurts them, hurts us.

What hurts you, hurts me.

And so on a night of people speaking through the action of filling out a ballot, I have found some good news.

In my city, we have decided that it hurts us all when children – yours, mine, ours – don’t have good safe schools to learn in. It is not good for any of us to raise generations of children who lack knowledge, who lack opportunities to debate and discuss, who don’t have access to new technologies and safe surroundings.

In my state, we decided that folks who work in jobs where the minimum wage is the standard rate of pay, should have a raise so maybe they can move a bit farther from the abyss of food insecurity or poverty. Many people working in these jobs work more than one, so maybe this means they can have more time with their families, more time to sit down with their children as they work on their homework. What hurts them, hurts us…or it should.

I woke up this morning feeling some hope. I still believe that when we say “we the people” we mean all of us. I still believe that not only what hurts them, hurts us, but what helps them, helps us all. For really, we are them.

Let us be us together.

May God Bless Me This Way Too

St Francis

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships, so you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy. And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe you can make a difference in the world, so you can do what others claim cannot be done.
– Franciscan Prayer

A woman stopped into church today with a flier she wanted us to post. It’s for a prayer vigil for Pastor Saeed Abedini, a reformed pastor in Iran who has been in a horrible prison since September 26, 2012, because of his faith. Folks in our church have asked for prayers for Pastor Saeed several times, I told her. They would want to know. So I have joined her Facebook group, Nebraska Prays for Pastor Saeed and the Persecuted Church, to get regular updates and to join with others who are praying for his release.

September 26, 2014, will mark two years of imprisonment for him and there will be a prayer gathering in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the west plaza of the capitol at 7:00 p.m. People across the world will be praying for his release. If it is possible for me to attend I will, but I will also honor her request to let as many people know as possible. You can read more about it here:

She was directed to me because of my heart for the people and the church in the Middle East, now under pressure in so many places. She seemed weary with her task. She had tried at her previous church and her current church to get the word out. One response was, “That’s the weekend of the men’s retreat.” That’s nice. Maybe the men of a church in Omaha could devote a small period of time during their retreat to pray for a brother imprisoned in another land for shepherding others who declare faith in Jesus. Or maybe not.

She seemed weary and said, “I’m just one person.” And that is where I tried to encourage her. “You are one person called by God for this purpose!” He doesn’t call the equipped, so the saying goes, he equips the called.

I am just one person, too. And yet God has placed a huge vision on my heart to help bring relief to the church in Syria and in Iraq in their work with refugees.

2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of instruction.” (That is quoted from the Aramaic Bible in plain English. If Aramaic was good enough for Jesus, it humbles me to quote it here.)

He has taken my former timid, shy, scared self and given me power and love to do his work. I am walking into that these days with my big project. I have been bold to ask those gifted in ways I am not to help, and they have said “yes.” I may be only one woman, but I have the gift of community and I believe this project will succeed because it is not my vision, but God’s.

God has blessed me in the ways that the Franciscan prayer above puts into words. My tears don’t stop, my anger builds, I have grievous discomfort over what I see and read on the news every day. And I am foolish enough to believe that one woman can make a difference.

The Lord’s Prayer

Arabic Lord's Prayer

Every night for as long as I can remember, (and I can remember a long, long time back!) I have prayed the Lord’s Prayer before going to sleep. It used to come in a long litany of prayers starting with, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” and ending with “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost…” And in the middle of all of those prayers came my own personal petitions of, “God bless this and God bless that. God protect him and her…” through multiple verses and choruses until I had named every family member, every cousin, aunt, uncle, friend… It was usually a very long time before I could actually fall asleep.

But the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father” as I called it, was the main point for me. The words of that prayer have brought me comfort in sorrow. They taught me a new way to pray one night, as if I really meant it. The night Jana and Susan were hit by that train 31 years ago, I finally listened to my heart as I said the words, “Thy will be done.” Did I really mean that? And it forced me to come to God in total humility as I prayed for his will to be done in the lives of my two sisters. I didn’t pray for their survival or a perfect recovery or that they would be without pain. I prayed that “thy will be done” and for me to accept that, even if they didn’t survive. That was one of the biggest lessons in my life.

The words of that prayer have joined me in community. I have prayed it in English while others around me were praying in Spanish, Italian, Czech, German and Arabic. I have been in the midst of the body of Christ all over this globe and been amazed at the wonder of its poetic meter. No matter what language the body was praying in, we always ended our phrases at the same point. Miraculous? Maybe. Purposeful creation? I’m pretty sure!

The first time I went to Lebanon and Syria, Dr. Emily Brink, one of our faithful women, brought us some songs to learn that they would sing in Arabic in the church. One of them was “Abana in Heaven,” the Lord’s prayer in Arabic. This is how I imagine we will all sing it in heaven someday:

I close my eyes and I’m there. Hauntingly beautiful, isn’t it?

But it was in Iraq this past March that someone else gave me an even more wonderful picture of this prayer, and so I would just close my post today with the blog I wrote that day in Basrah as we were preparing to leave our family there once more.

The Bread We Need (March 19, 2014)

We have come through our last full day in Basrah with an ending culminating in the centuries old tradition of baking naan, the Arabic flatbread served with schwarma. Bread. It is served at every meal. Daily. And it was the focus of Meryl’s devotion this evening. The Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-18: so familiar! Say it with us now, Give us this day our daily bread.

Meryl led us through several translations of this line from the familiar one above from the Greek to the one they use here in Arabic: Give us our bread sufficient for the day. It’s interesting how the focus changes from one of time to one of amount; the difference between a western understanding and an eastern understanding. And when the Greek is translated backward to Syriac, so close to the Aramaic which was the language of Jesus, it comes out this way: Give us today the bread that doesn’t run out. It’s the promise of sustaining life. It’s a prayer to deliver us from fear. It’s the vision of the great banquet with Messiah. It’s communion.

From our visit with the Chaldean church earlier this week, to our visit with the dear Armenian Orthodox Abuna (Father) Turkum today, to every moment with the Basrah Evangelical Church, it has been a time of holy communion.

Basrah crossThe benediction for today came at the end of our schwarma – our communion – this night. We shared words of gratefulness, words of love – the words that families share when they don’t know the next time they will gather. Hugs all around! Kisses galore! One more backward glance at sweet new babies, playing children, nodding elders. And as we left this place with gifts in hand and hearts full of pictures and stories, we walked one more time under the light of the cross at the top of the church. May it shine in this place for generations to come.


First Communion

I remember mine and I have told this story many times.

Julie's first communionMy mom died on March 22, 1966, just a few months before I made my first communion at Christ the King Catholic Church in Omaha, Nebraska. All the other little girls in my second grade class that fall had their moms to make sure their hair was nicely done so their communion veils would sit prettily on their heads. I had a group of nuns – Sr. Mary Christine, Sr. Mary Amy and Sr. Mary Thomas – who did that for me. They took me out that day to get my hair done and just enjoy a day of fun before the big moment at mass that night. When that moment did come, those three ladies saw the distress of a shy, introverted seven-year old, and they hustled me out of mass so I could throw up in the bathroom instead of the pew. After mass was over, they brought me back into the sanctuary, up to the communion rail, so Father Hupp could serve me the body of Christ, represented in that flat, embossed wafer. I have never forgotten that moment. And every time I have come to that part of a church service anywhere, I remember who served me: Jesus. And sometimes he comes in the form of 1965-habited nuns.

Communion is important to me because of the community we become at that meal, the experience that is shared together. I posted this on Facebook on Easter Sunday this year:

“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” Luke 24:30-31

Post-resurrection, they recognized the one who loved them and gave his life for them in the breaking of bread, the sharing of a meal. May we recognize that same love in our breaking of the bread and sharing hospitality. May we look across the table, into the eyes of others, and see what God saw when he made us: a reflection of the divine, something he called very good. And may we know his peace.

Happy Easter to all! Special prayers for God’s beloved in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

I know how important communion is in the church. I remember the look on Father Hupp’s face when he put that wafer on my tongue. I was part of something bigger than me that I would carry throughout the rest of my life.

When Jesus invites us to the table to remember him by serving others, it is a pretty important moment.

But I discovered just how important communion was to others in the church when I went to Iraq for the first time in November, 2011. I was traveling with a group of folks who are now part of the community of my life: Barbara, Marilyn, Tom M., Mark, Tom B., Elmarie and Chris. Four of these saints are pastors and even though it was important for all of us to be there, their presence was a gift beyond measure.

The Presbyterian church in Basrah had been without a pastor since 2004, when the last one fled in the midst of sectarian violence brought about by the U.S. invasion in 2003. A dear elder in the church, Zuhair Fathallah, had been leading this amazing congregation since. In their tradition, it was so important for the pastor to say the words of institution for communion, “On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took…”, and they didn’t have a pastor. There were and are very few pastors in Iraq, so they didn’t have communion in Basrah very often. Not every Sunday like in my young life in the Catholic church, not once a month like at my current reformed church, and not even once a year. They had communion when a pastor could be there, and when we showed up that November it had been over two years since they had celebrated it.

I don’t have a picture to show you, but I remember Marilyn taking a picture of the congregation. Almost to a person there were tears, and they were commemorating that event with their own cameras. I immediately thought back to Father Hupp and the joy that was on his face when he gave me that wafer. Communion is a meal with the divine among the mundane and it should be marked and remembered. And they did and it was.

One year later we returned to Basrah. They still had no pastor and Elder Zuhair was still running the church. (He also made the wine for communion!) And we had 50% more pastors in our group for a total of six: Mark, Tom, Elmarie, Rob, Larry and Marshall. And once again the cameras came out. Here is my picture from that day:

Mark Mueller, Elmarie Parker, Rob Weingartner, Elder Zuhair, Marshall Zieman, Tom Boone and Larry Richards offer communion at the Evangelical Church of Basrah, November, 2012.

Mark Mueller, Elmarie Parker, Rob Weingartner, Elder Zuhair, Marshall Zieman, Tom Boone and Larry Richards offer communion at the Evangelical Church of Basrah, November, 2012.

 “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19b

The first communion. And I remember.