family celebrationRemembering is a vital Christian discipline that is either ignored or taught in an off-handed, casual manner.  Most of us know that routine thinking is defined by psychologists as remembering what happened in the past and rehearsing how we would change it if we could relive the event.  Perhaps that is the reason why Christians disregard the command of Jesus to “do this to remember me.”

Why should such a common event as remembering become a Christian disciple?  But isn’t God the redeemer of all things, especially those events and objects which we take for granted, find most common or deem less valuable.

family preparing for deploymentOur memories are an essential part of who we are.  Family events often mean sitting around the table rehearsing past joys and sorrows.  We laugh again and again at Uncle Billy’s comment about Vero Beach.  We delight in Tarah’s antics telling about the ordeal of preparing for her husband’s deployment to Afghanistan. We use our dinner napkins to wipe away the tears when our laugher turns to piercing loneliness as we joke about Mama’s long, convoluted prayers that each year kept us from eating our Thanksgiving dinner until it was cold.

We know that these are times of joyful sorrow that make our hearts grow with love and appreciation for each other.   Yet, that experience is not often shared among the church family.  One of the highlights of my Christian life was when The Tabernacle Church of Melbourne hosted their 25th anniversary dinner.  It was a time of remembering and sharing the joys and hidden sorrows of a congregation that had grown into a family.

I believe that communion was to be more than a ritualistic handing out of the cup and bread.  It was to be more than the sharing of the “host.”   It was to be a time of true remembrance and celebration.

community churchOf course, there are times that our hearts are filled with the cares and concerns of our world.   We approach communion with a need for more time, more energy and more resources.  We don’t have the time, energy or resources to “rehearse” that joyful night which ushered in the heart-bending sorrow of a crucified Savior.

Working in the mentally challenged community for 24 years has taught me many lessons.  One is the value of remembering.  Saturday night, as I stood beside Keith’s hospital bed with two of his caregiver, our conversation slowly ambled toward Chris, Grace, Tom and so many others.  Young people who were snatched from us too soon. Keith slept because his medical emergency was over.  Relieved that he would go home, we hugged each other with sweet memories and conversation of our loved ones who have gone to be the Lord.

Perhaps turning these moments into a traditional ceremony will only take away the value.  Yet, it is apparent that the Lord wants to become a vital part of the joys and sorrows of remembering.

rememberPerhaps one of the greatest virtues and joys of a Christian is remembering.  We often overlook the command that Jesus gave to us during the Lord’s Supper.  He said, “Do this so you will remember me.”

remember meTime and time again in the Old and New Testaments we are instructed to remember.  Many of the emotional and mental hardships we experience in our daily spiritual walk stem from neglecting this discipline.  Ignored or passed over without much thought or meditation, we stumble day after day because we forget the grace, mercy and promises of God.

From the beginning, when Eve took the first bite of that forbidden fruit, a large part of her problem was not remembering.  She had forgotten the promise and instruction of God.  She didn’t completely remember what God had told her and Adam about eating the fruit.

Again and again as the people of God fail to live for him, it is too often a remembering problem.  Deliberate sin is not as much a concern for most of us as neglecting the small things.

clean the garageAs my big project for 2013, I’ve taken on the task of cleaning out the garage. That messy cavern holds years of work, hopes and dreams of my late husband.  It was his shop, his hideout and his sanctuary.  As I scrub, paint, sort and toss, I remember that so much of his life revolved around a great dream of changing the world through a machine that produced unlimited energy.  He didn’t accomplish his dream; but he never forgot it.

I remember that I believed in that dream because I believed in him.

One of the virtues I’ve observed within the mentally challenged community is their ability to grasp and hold tight to the simple, good things of God.  They remember their first communion.  They remember to prepare their offering envelop for Sunday morning.  They remember a small gesture of love and forgiveness.  They remember…

The Lord has a plan (a dream) for my life and your life.  We can believe in that marvelous dream when we remember and trust in Him.

On Sunday evening at Camp Agape, we had a bread and cup service.  Each year, the members of several programs of Special Gathering gather for a spiritual retreat in Vero Beach at Life for Youth Camp during Memorial Day weekend.  This year we had about 180 people who attended from seven of our programs.  People came from as far south as Port St. Lucie and as far north as Jacksonville.  We are rrestricted in the number of cabins we could use.  Therefore our numbers dropped from approximately 220.

Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We exist to do classic ministry, discipleship and evangelism.  This is our purpose and our mission.  Camp Agape is a set-aside time to get into the skin of our members and for our members to get to know each other.

Each day at camp we eat our meals together.  We sleep in the same cabins.  We play games, do crafts and slide down the waterslides.  The highlight of the weekend is the bread and cup service.  Here, we remember the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.  We also want to embrace the time of fellowship that this meal represents.

As in years past, we have served the bread wafers and the small cups of grape juice in two lines. Each person is given the invitation, “If you are a friend of Jesus, come.”  During the mingling in the aisles as people wait for their turns, there is a stirring of the love the Lord has for us shown by the fact that he would come to die for the bad things we do.

Five years ago, when The Twins (two young women in their early 20’s) came to me to be served, I realized that this was the first time in their lives they would be served the wafer and the cup.  I gave the bread to Ariel with the explanation, “This is a small piece of bread.  Take and eat it.  Jesus said that this was to be done to remember that his body was broken for us.”  I explained the cup in a similar way.  Ariel solemnly took the wafer and small cup.  She ate and drank it.

Then it was Clara’s turn.  She is blind.  She is unable to walk and is confined to a wheelchair.  I placed the wafer in her hand and explained.  “This is a small piece of bread.  Jesus said that we are to eat the bread to remember that his body was broken for us.”

Clara felt the bread with her other hand.  “Jesus said that?  Wow!” she said.  Somehow her simple exclamation did something new in my spirit.  The wonder of his sacrifice was magnified as I encountered anew the privilege his sacrifice affords us, giving us access to the Father.  My heart exploded with joy.

I gave Clara the cup and my feeble explanation.  Clara took the cup and said, “Wow!  This is for me?  Wow!”  By now I was weeping.  How can a simple “Wow” renew and even transform my understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice?  I have no idea. But I was acutely aware that access to the heartbeat of God is mine.  What more can be said but “Wow”?

As Clara’s simple exclamation made my heart sing, how has God opened your eyes to spiritual truths by the actions or reactions of your members?

Tonight I sat in the sanctuary filled with people from most of the churches in Sebastian, Florida.  Remembering. It was a moving Good Friday service filled with brutal mixtures of sorrow and joy.

Earlier in the week, I watched a magnificently beautiful video that features the photos of two photographers who are on staff at First United Methodist Church in Melbourne.  I was reminded by the amazingly magnificent images that my husband–who died in May 2011–was the person who taught me to recognize and appreciate the beauty in nature.

Sitting quietly, while colors and figures burst before me, my heart almost skipped a beat when I realized that this would be Frank’s first Resurrection Day in heaven.  Therefore, I felt Sunday would be a great day for my husband because he is a person who notes times and dates.  I cried, overwhelmed with the thought of his joy and from the beauty of the photos merging in and out on the screen or swimming effortlessly onto and off the wall.

Tonight at the Good Friday service and after the sermon, we shared communion.  The Bible tells us to have days to remember. Communion is a direct outgrowth of a memory directive from Jesus.  Somehow I was jolted back to the video of nature’s bounty. Remembering the tears I had shed earlier this week.  Those tears were a bitter-sweet mixture.

Again, tonight I cried.  The death of Jesus changed all of humanity–whether you accept his love or not.  The memory of his death and suffering is a piercing blow to our senses.  But we all know that Sunday is coming and, therefore, in the middle of our tears, we lift our hands and hearts in resounding thankfulness for God’s love, mercy and grace.

Sunday morning, I was ready to leave with the choir who was singing at a church in another county when I remembered that I had left a bag in the gym (where we hold worship) that contained elements for a “Bread and Cup Service.”  I spoke with our elder who would be conducting the service that day.  She was happy to be able to do a Bread and Cup Service with our members because the lesson from the Lifeway curriculum–that we use–was teaching about the Last Supper.

Because of the diversity of denominations that we represent, we do not observe communion.  However, during camp and when appropriate, we mimic the Salvation Army’s “Bread and Cup Service.”  Because our members are visual and tactical learners, we often use practical applications to teach the weekly lesson.  In preparing this lesson, I could think of no better illustration than to have a time where our members obeyed Jesus when He said, “Do this to remember me.”

We don’t often think about the importance of this time as a memory boaster.  Those of us whose cognitive abilities are swift and large, argue about the true significance and the power of the elements.  Our members were eager to simply “remember” in a concrete, tangible way.  I had explained to them that in the days of Jesus, there were no cell-phone cameras or videos.  However, God again and again told His people:  “Remember.”

Yet, each time we are told by God to remember, He gives us a practical, active illustration that mimics the actual events.  Baptism, Passover, Feast of Booths, communion all teach with activity.  Most of the time, God incorporates a time of feasting to make the observance of this godly event more enjoyable.

The blessings of the Lord and the remembrances are often mingled with sad events.  However, the Lord wants us to relish His provision and His blessings and He give us an active symbol to help us to remember.

At Brevard Achievement Center (BAC) in Rockledge and Melbourne, Florida, the staff have found an excellent way to communicate and reward the people who are developmentally disabled that they serve.  They take them out to lunch.  Occasionally, Special Gathering staff is asked to join them.  I love being invited to be a part of that time.

I believe that the meal serves as more than a place for your body to be nourished.  Traditional worship found in the Bible centers around the meal.  The Jewish celebrations took place in homes, involved an elaborate meal and family fun.  The Old Testament feast of booths was a seven-day family camping trip which celebrated the fall harvest. 

The Lord’s Supper or communion was instituted by Jesus after he and his disciples had shared a family meal.  Whenever an angel appeared, in the Old Testament, they were offered a meal.  Most of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection, involved or took place during a meal.

There is a purpose behind this.  Barriers are broken down during meal time.  People bond in a unique way.  Our members also respond in a unique way to sharing a meal together.  During our parties, we decorate and have table cloths and good food.  Our members are extra careful and incredible grateful. 

Each time we have a party during Special Gathering, it centers around food.  I’m sometimes asked by volunteers, “Why do we always have to eat whenever we do anything special?”

My response is usually,  “Have you ever gone to any party where there is no food?” 

Perhaps the most holy time in Christendom–communion–revolves around a meal.  In our churches, we have sanitized communion, packaging the grape juice and pressing the bread.  In the process, I believe we have lost a good portion of the meaning and joy because we have eliminated the meal.  Yet, in ministering to people who are mentally challenged I’ve found that they have the ability to make every occasion festive. 

How have you found that meal times are important to you and your members?  Do you have a certain time that you make sure that you share a meal with your members?  Do you ever have one-on-one meals with your members?