I visit a lot of nursing homes. There are a few staples in each room. A well-worn chair. A
photo album. An old bible. A few trinkets with more sentimental value than anyone on Antique Roadshow could ever know. They remind folks of home. Of family. Of God. Until they can’t. Alzheimer’s is an evil thing.
Technically, it forms insoluble plaques between neurons in the brain causing memory loss. I Googled that, but WebMD doesn’t talk about how Alzheimer’s causes a layer of dust to cover bibles that used to be open every day. I’ve known armchair theologians who chewed the meat of the scripture lose years of insight and brought back to the milk little children move away from.
I didn’t see the part where family portraits become stock photos that came with the frame. Or where precious tokens become junk because nobody remembers what made them so special anymore. I’ve watched this disease assault Christians and their families. I’ve watched people cope with the loss of a loved one even while they sit unknowing in a chair 2 feet away because of a living death called Alzheimer’s. They’re not dead, but the part of them that shared stories and jokes is gone. So even while we tend to the body, even while we do our best to offer gestures of love that go unrecognized, we are ground down bit by bit. Forgetting is heartbreaking.
I wonder if the prophet Isaiah didn’t know someone who suffered this. WebMD wouldn’t have helped, but then again, it doesn’t now. Not for this. So the prophet wrote,
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. (Isaiah 49:15-16)”
Sometimes we forget, but God remembers. When the identity seems to be slipping away from someone you love so much, look to the Jesus who has carved our memory into the palms us His hands with nails from a cross. See the identity that cannot be taken. We are the ones Jesus bled and died for. We are the ones washed clean in that blood. We are the baptized, united with Christ in His death and so certainly united with Him in His resurrection.
Here’s the ugly truth, this world is so busted up by something called sin that it changes us. Living in pain, disease, sin and addiction, warps our personalities in time. But we will not be known by the worst the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh can do to us. We will be known by the nail marks in our Christ’s hands. We will be known by His love for us that was willing to bear all the same pains unto death to conquer them for us. We will be known by His resurrection. We will be known by the risen Jesus who has set us free from all of it. Even risen, He still has nail marks in His hands. They are to remember you and yours. They recall the sacrifice that brings us with Him unto glory. They are the sign that even while we despair in this world, our Lord has not forgotten us. He remembers.
So we do the things that come from this sacrifice. We cling to the things that remind us who we really are. We are children of God. We pray the Lord’s Prayer. We sing hymns and pray psalms. We cross ourselves until our pastor has to do it for us in a Benediction that yields peace. There’s a reason Christians do these things every day. The milk of the scripture is something children move on from to ask weighty questions, but when we need to fall back on it it’s still there. We are the baptized, engraved on the palms of His hands. Christ is risen. We will rise, free from all of the evils in this world. Restored in mind and body alike. Even now, while they grab at us, know we are held in Christ’s nail marked hands.