Mystic Sweet Communion

The body gathered: a service of holy communion.

The body gathered: a service of holy communion.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won

This was the last day at the women’s conference at Dhour Chouier with our sisters from Lebanon and Syria and Iraq. After a brief breakfast of one of our favorite dishes, manaeish, this wonderful fresh bread spread with olive oil and a wonderful blend of spices called zatar, we headed to the church for a service of holy communion.

Five pastors at the table of the Lord: Lisa from Florence, So. Car.; Toby from Decatur, Geo.; Josef from Beirut; Kate from Cambridge, N.Y.; Louise from Denver, Colo.

Five pastors at the table of the Lord: Lisa from Florence, So. Car.; Toby from Decatur, Geo.; Josef from Beirut; Kate from Cambridge, N.Y.; Louise from Denver, Colo.

We have celebrated communion in many ways this week with our family here. Moments of learning. Moments of joy and laughter. Moments of mourning and tears. Moments of reunion and renewal and remembrance. This is the church and this is life in the church. In this place it is all the more precious to us because we know how hard it is for the church to exist in this part of the world. This place where the church was born with tongues of fire and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the sending out to baptize and make disciples, has given us this gift. We receive from the cloud of witnesses and with the grace of God we will pass that baton on. That communion and community are words so tied together is no accident.

So today we gathered once more for worship. We had said our goodbyes to those traveling back last night to their homes on dangerous roads. (At this late hour on Saturday night, we are still waiting word on the members of the Aleppo church.) They were not with us in the flesh, but oh, how they were with us in spirit in this community.

And for the life of me – please forgive me for lapsing into the first person at this time - I cannot remember a word that Assis Josef said in his sermon, although I know it was a good word because every word he says is God-given. But what I remember was looking around at the faces of the women gathered together in this moment when we are called to the table to remember. Why are we the church? What do we remember when we come to this table?

For God so loved the world. There it is. He gave his son that we may know life and know it abundantly. His sacrifice for us. Come to the table and remember.

And so we all came. We came from Latakia and Hasake and Aleppo. We came from Beirut and Minyara. We came from Basra and Baghdad and Kirkuk. We came from Denver and Cambridge and Omaha. Some of our roads were long in hours and miles. Some of our roads were filled with border crossings easier than others. Some of our roads were zig-zagged because of dangers and threats. But we came because we remember what he did.

Lisa and Toby serve the elements to the women at the conference. Wafa, wife of the pastor from the Damascus church, is in the pink top.

Lisa and Toby serve the elements to the women at the conference. Wafa, wife of the pastor from the Damascus church, is in the pink top.

And our communion was served to the women here by four humble pastors who also happened to be women. One by one they said to us, “The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ spilled for you.” And we held these elements in our hands until all were served. And then in one moment, together, we ate the bread and drank the cup.

One faith.
One baptism.
One Lord.
One body.
The church.

A cloud of witnesses.

Our group has gathered each morning for devotions together, and on many of those mornings we have closed with a hymn. Among the eight of us, someone will remember a verse or a part of a verse until we get the whole hymn sung. And one morning it was The Church’s One Foundation that was raised in this manner, and we settled on that phrase, mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.

There are many in this place whose rest has been won in hard ways and they, too, were remembered today. They are our cloud of witnesses. They have helped to build up this church whose foundation is a solid rock. They have passed it to us. Let us pass it on as we have received it.

And remember.

Julie Burgess