Dementia is a scary thing. I’ve had two grandparents struggle with this condition at the end of their lives. First it started off slowly – they would get disoriented while driving, or forget if they had turned off the stove. Then their condition would progress, and they would forget what they had to eat earlier that day, or they would call our house over and over again, forgetting that they had just called. Then, worst of all, they would forget their family. Daughters, sons, grandchildren were lost in a haze, and they couldn’t remember who we were, or even who we were to them.
Dementia is a scary thing. The very ones who raised us, who taught us how to read, how to cook, how to laugh – the ones we could confide in when our hearts were broken, the ones we could rejoice with when we accomplished great things – lose the ability to remember a face that issued from their own bodies. They forget.
Being forgotten is a painful experience. To know and love someone for your entire life and then have them totally forget you is more than heart-wrenching, it can be faith-destroying.
There are two fears lurking here; the fear of being forgotten, and the fear of forgetting. In order to not be forgotten, we do all sorts of things. We ask those who come after us to build giant tombstones or put articles in the newspaper about what great people we were. We don’t want to be forgotten.
But we also don’t want to forget. We don’t want to succumb to the consequences of or dementia. So we carry pictures of our loved ones in our wallets. We write in journals so we remember what we did. Or, if you walk into my office, you’ll see a hunk of charred wood. This hunk of wood is part of the remains from Jeff’s and my seminary chapel, which tragically burned down last fall. The chapel isn’t there anymore, but I can remember it because it’s something tangible, something I can grab on to, to help me remember.
On the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ gave us more than his life. He gave us something by which we can remember him. Christ couldn’t bear leaving us without a reminder, knowing full well that we succumb to forgetfulness. You know these words, you hear them every week. “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.” And “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.”
This is a radical type of meal in which we guard ourselves from the oblivion of forgetfulness. Every time you eat that stale cracker and get a sip of potent wine, Christ is calling you to remember him. And it’s not “remembering” like remembering what you had for lunch. It’s remembering in a prayerful sense of thinking back to what God has done in the past. And the past is two thousand years ago, but the past is also earlier this evening.
In the past God created everything out of his love, Jesus was born in a barn, he gave hope to the hopeless, faith to the faithless, he lived and then he died and then he lived again. But in the past, Christ has also worked through your life, and through the lives of other saints. The real “miracle” of communion is that so much meaning could be packed into a stale cracker and a sip of wine. By eating this bread and drinking this wine we are guarded against a sort of spiritual dementia.
I know this is why Adele Khoury takes communion. Adele is the oldest living member of St. Alban’s – 99 years old. Adele is the sweetest, gentlest person I’ve met in a long time. But sadly, Adele has trouble remembering things, being 99 years old. She can’t always remember my name when I see her. She has pictures of family on the walls of her room, though she can’t always remember who they are.
But she can remember one thing so well, it’s eerie. She remembers communion. She remembers the Eucharist. In the haze of her mind and in the fogginess of her memory, she can remember Jesus Christ.
Her frail and spotted hands take and eat, and she remembers that God has made her a living member of Christ, and that she is an heir of his eternal kingdom. And then she takes and drinks, not remembering exactly where she is, but remembering precisely who she is – a child of God.
So remember this: we need this bread and this wine as much as need regular food and regular drink. This is the stuff that dispels our fears and gives us the courage to love one another as he loved us.