National Conference of Viet Nam Veteran Ministers
Concluding Communion, Spiritual Healing Retreats
Before the service starts -- all are asked to write on 3x5 cards several words or a sentence of what they will take home from the retreat and/or will do as a result of it. No identification. Fold the card and hold it.
Scripture - Luke 22:19
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
I want to you to leave this retreat with a profound pattern of life given to us by Luke.
Luke's words report four actions in the story of the bread - Jesus took it; he blessed it by giving thanks for it; he broke it; and he shared it. These are also the four significant actions in Jesus' own story: he was taken when he heard God's call; he was blessed in baptism at the River Jordan; he was broken on the cross, and his life has been shared with humanity for 2000 years.
What happens to the bread and cup before us follows the same pattern: taken, blessed, broken, shared. And the point of it is the call to make Christ's story our own, the call that we too participate in this same profound pattern of life.
Our weekend is drawing to a close. We have told our stories and shared our pain, and we have been heard. We have welcomed ancient warriors into our circle. We have heard different ways to make meaning of our experience. We have identified things to leave behind. And now we wonder what we will take with us as we leave.
There is nourishment to take with us. At the very least, a tiny bit of physical nourishment, a bite of bread, a sip of wine. But if we allow it, these morsels can be much more to us, for in the physical nourishment is the spiritual nourishment of a new pattern of life: taken, blessed, broken, and shared..
Sound of the Bell
Scripture: Deuteronomy 4:20
But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron-smelter, out of Egypt, to become a people of his very own possession, as you are now.
Reflection. At the beginning of things, we are taken, and it's often a jarring, disruptive, unpleasant experience. The people of Israel were taken by God out of Egypt. Moses was on board with the idea for he knew it meant freedom from oppression, but for many of the people, the sudden change was an unwelcome disruption.
For us, the draft notice or enlistment marked a sudden change in our lives. We were taken from our civilian surroundings and placed in barracks and tents. We were taken from North America and dumped in Vietnam. Some of us thought we had our lives all worked out and things happened that we didn't cause, didn't plan, and didn't ask for.
Jesus might have had a pleasant, quiet life that nobody would have heard about - but he was taken, and he had to be if his life was to achieve its destiny.
Before bread and wine can be blessed or offered or shared, they have to be taken. Taken is like a loaf of bread sitting in the store. Taken is something that happens to the bread. The bread has no control over it.
Taken is like a draft notice.
Taken is like a phone call. The phone rings and when we answer the world has changed and we have new responsibilities.
For the most part, when in church we take an offering we just imagine it is a way to raise money. But what the offering really does is show our acceptance that in life, we are taken. What is brought forward is us, our lives, taken.
So in this service the cards we put in the basket represents our lives, offered and taken. We will receive them back, transformed. The bread and wine represent our lives, offered and taken. We will receive it back, transformed.
Sound of the Bell
Scripture: Genesis 27:38
Esau said to his father, "Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me, me also, father!" And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
Taken, Blessed, Broken, Shared. After the taking comes the blessing. I looked for a reading by a Vietnam veteran that would illustrate being blessed. Are you surprised that I couldn't find one? Our experience is the absence of blessing. We went to Vietnam to seek a blessing in the form of honor and appreciation from a grateful nation, and we didn't get it. Sometimes it seemed others got it, but we didn't. Our experience echoed that of Esau, Jacob's son, who was entitled to a blessing but Jacob got there first and took it. We hear Esau say to his father, "Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me, me also, father!" And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
We live our lives like Esau - like blessing is scarce. We run into people who are burned out - they have been taken and broken, but now are trying to share what has not been blessed.
Taken, Blessed, Broken, Shared. They're a pattern for lives that work. Sometimes we have been taken, and broken, and even shared, but we've never been blessed, and our lives don't work. Vets have been taken, and broken, and our families want so badly to share us, but it doesn't work. Perhaps we have to go back and take that step that's missing - being blessed.
The answer is there in every communion service we attend.
How do you bless something? We bless something by giving thanks for it. Saying thank you to God for something puts it in its proper relationship with God. And then it is blessed.
Blessing is not scarce. There's as much blessing as there are thank you's. Blessing is abundant if we are able to say thank you.
The Great Thanksgiving.
The Lord be with you
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
We, who have felt the pain of war, thank you, Lord, for your presence, love and mercy in our lives. Even when we walked through the valleys of death's shadow, you were with us.
When war took away our close companions, you shared our pain.
When we cursed at all that tore our lives apart, you felt our anger.
When we came to you in guilt and bitter regret, you held out your arms in forgiveness.
Though we forgot you when we felt betrayed, you did not forget us.
Therefore we join those who love you through the ages, saying:Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might
As we once gathered together around boxes of C-rations in a far off land, so Jesus once gathered among friends in a borrowed room and took bread. But Jesus did something more. Having blessed the bread, he broke it and gave it to those around him, saying, "This bread which we break is my broken body, a living reminder of the life we have lived.
And as we so many times passed a canteen among our friends, Jesus gave the cup to his disciples, but again he did something more, saying,
"This cup is the new relationship with God,
Sealed with my blood which will soon be shed. Take this and share it.
I shall drink wine with you next in the coming kingdom of God."
So now, following Jesus' example, we take this bread and this wine;
The ordinary things of the world through which God will bless us.
And, as Jesus offered thanks for the gifts of the earth,
We thank you, God, for your goodness, for in our thankfulness we are blessed. Amen.
Sound of the Bell
Scripture: Psalm 31:10-12
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also,
For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.
I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
Reading: Paul Cohen's Story, Part 1
My grandfather served in W. W. I, my father in W. W. II, and so when I first heard of Vietnam the only worry I had was that it wouldn't last long enough for me to get my chance. This was 1964, I was 15, and as it turned out I had nothing to worry about....I joined the Army, volunteering for the infantry and Nam, the day of my 18th birthday in 1967. I landed at Tan Son Nhut on Thanksgiving day of that same year....I had a mission, a purpose: I was going to serve my country, be a hero, maybe win a fistful of medals, but more importantly, have my father be proud of me. I would have done anything to win his approval.....
I came back home from Nam at the age of 19, flat on my back after walking into an ambush as a point man and getting part of my leg shot off....Little by little I felt myself slipping away, and not even caring. .....Problem? I didn't have a problem! I got angrier and angrier. I began using drugs, marijuana, ups, downs, whatever. Alcohol, too. ...I reported to work [one] Monday morning...and felt so..empty..so.. Numb. I went into the locker room, took out my trusty P38 can opener and tried to open a wrist. Some of the guys walked in and grabbed it from me. I jumped up and began punching holes in the walls. ...eventually found myself locked up in a 30 day drug and alcohol program. Every time I mentioned Vietnam they said I was an addict. They wouldn't let me talk about Vietnam, they said it had nothing to do with my problem, I was an addict, an alcoholic. ...(3)
It wasn't long after Jesus was taken and blessed -- hardly more than a year - before he was broken. Well, we understand broken. Broken interrupted Jesus' life. It feels like an interruption in this service. We've just been thinking happily about being blessed -- and suddenly we're talking about being broken. It's not fair.
But it's true to life. Brokenness is the reception some of us received on our return. For others, brokenness is the memories that haunted us, the hypervigilence, or the numbness. For some brokenness is careers that were stopped dead in their tracks. For others, brokenness is marriages that were never the same.
Brokenness is a part of life. In the story of the bread it's a necessary step. The bread is taken and blessed. Then if it is to do any good, if it is to be shared, it must be broken. Jesus' life was like that. Our lives are like that.
When we are broken, we can shrivel up and hide - or we can reach out to God. We can fill ourselves with our own pain - or we can discover that knowing pain helps us reach out to others.
Prayers of the People
Lord Jesus Christ, be present with us now,
As we do here what you did in an upstairs room,
Breathe your Spirit upon us and upon this bread and this wine,
That they may be heaven's food and drink for us,
Renewing, sustaining, and making us whole,
And that we may be your body on earth,
Loving and caring in the world.
You are above us, O God, You are beneath.
You are in air, you are in earth,
You are beside us, you are within.
O God, you are in the betrayed and suffering people of our world
Just as you were in the broken body of Jesus.
We pray now for all that concerns us as we come to this table together.
Let us offer our own intercessions, both spoken and unspoken. Please offer brief prayers. After your prayer, the leader will say, "Lord, in your mercy," and the congregational response is "Hear our prayer."
Eternal Spirit, Earth Maker, pain-bearer, life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all, Loving God in heaven:
The hallowing of your name echoes through the universe!
May the way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the earth!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth!
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever. AMEN.(4)
Behold, the Bread of Heaven is broken for the life of the world.
Sound of the Bell
Reading: Paul Cohen's story, part II.
20 years later...they told me I had PTSD and I would have it for the rest of my life...And that was the beginning of my recovery. What I had, had a name. It wasn't me, it had been done to me, and what I could do now was to live in spite of it. I could not go back and erase what happened. Like a diabetic, I could learn to live with it.
I found my mission at the Wall. I went the first time with the local chapter of the VVA, another part of my recovery.....I remember going to look for familiar but long forgotten names. I scanned the black stone and saw one there, and there, and there, and suddenly every name I saw was familiar; I knew them all. My individual experience was transcended by something much, much bigger. And I cried. I cried for all those who were lost, wasted. All those sons and brothers and boyfriends and husbands. The lives they could have lived, the contributions they could have made but didn't, and here I was, a survivor. I was living. I was given the chance they didn't get, and I was wasting it. Their waste could be forgiven because they did not know, but I was wasting purposefully. Then I was struck with the thought that I could give purpose to their sacrifice. I could give meaning to what had happened by learning from it and helping others with that knowledge. I knew I finally had a true mission, one I could accomplish and be proud of.
A group of other Vietnam vets and I began lecturing and showing slides of Vietnam to local school children. Not war stories, but what it felt like to be 18, alone, afraid and far from home I continued to take control of that which had for over 20 years controlled me. I also went back to college and graduated with honors. I went on to graduate school and got my Masters. I became a therapist to try to help others sort out their own pain, to find some meaning in what has happened to them, to help them find their missions I finally found my own. (5)
Scripture: Isaiah 58:5-9
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
When the bread is broken, it is ready to be shared. How often we don't complete the four step pattern and our lives don't work. Taken, blessed, broken -- and not shared; we become like uneaten bread growing moldy on the shelf.
When we connect with God's pain, we connect with God's people. When we offer up our pain and our wounds as a gift to God, they become be a gift to others. Our lives will be shared.
Taken, blessed, broken, shared. It's what happens to the bread and the cup. It happened to the life of Christ. It can happen to you. Out of the Good Fridays of our lives, many will share our Easters.
Sharing the Words of Wounded Healers
As the basket is passed, each person takes a 3x5 card from the basket and reads it out loud to the group.
Sharing the Bread and Cup
What transforms the bread and wine? What transforms a life?
Is it the taking or the blessing? Is it the breaking or the sharing?
Is it something we bring or something God brings? The transformation is a mystery.
These are the gifts of God for the people of God.
Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us
Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.
All are welcome at the Lord's Table.
Leader: Teach us to know our interconnectedness with all things.
Response: Teach us to grow with each other and with all living creatures through love.
Leader: Send us now into the world in peace and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart through Christ our Lord.
Response: The blessing of the God of life be ours,
The blessing of the loving Christ be ours,
The blessing of the Holy Spirit be ours,
To renew us, to gird us, and to shape us
That we may be servants to the world,
The world of God's own making and redeeming.
Thanks be to God. AMEN..(6)
Welcome Home! The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you. Welcome Home!
Let us greet each other with signs of God's love.
2. Words and music, Joe Wise, 1966.
3. 4. Adaptation of the Lord's Prayer, from the Maori of New Zealand
5. 6. Adapted from Iona Community Communion Service
3.Paul Cohen, MSW, Spec 4/USA, 2nd Bn 16th Inf 1st Inf Div, Vietnam, 1967-1968. In Sarah Hansel, Ann Steidle, Grace Zaczek, Ron Zaczek, eds, Soldier's Heart: Survivors' Views of Combat Trauma. Lutherville, MD: Sidran Press, 1995, pp. 195-197. Quotation used by permission. Soldier's Heart is available from Sidran Press and a portion of your purchase cost will help to support NCVNVM.
4. Adaptation of the Lord's Prayer, from the Maori of New Zealand
5. 6. Adapted from Iona Community Communion Service
5.Paul Cohen, MSW, Spec 4/USA, 2nd Bn 16th Inf Bde 1st Inf Div, Vietnam, 1967-1968. In Sarah Hansel, Ann Steidle, Grace Zaczek, Ron Zaczek, eds, Soldier's Heart: Survivors' Views of Combat Trauma. Lutherville, MD: Sidran Press, 1995, pp. 197-198. Quotation used by permission. Soldier's Heart is available from Sidran Press and a portion of your purchase cost will help to support NCVNVM.
6. Adapted from Iona Community Communion Service