We Remember.

We’re in the long, narrow concrete backyard “garden” of a large building smack dab in the middle of Taksim, the modern heart of Istanbul. The building is surrounded by both tourists and locals out for a day of shopping on the famous Istiklal Street. They’ve not been stopped by COVID, nor by the record-breaking heat and humidity. As for ourselves, even though we’re not moving much, we’re still sweating from the hour it took to arrive — walk, metro, metro, walk. Thankfully, we meet early enough that the crowds are not yet at their peak, nor is the heat.

In this tiny little bubble of refuge we sit quietly, six-feet apart, masked, small in number. There is no worship team, only a single guitar. There is no children’s church, those of us with small children make due, those without give grace. For the first time in the three weeks we’ve been able to attend, there is a microphone and a speaker pointed our direction, and it is wonderful being able to hear better.

For a 200 year-long previously unbroken line, unfortunately snipped by COVID, a group of Jesus followers had been meeting in a chapel on the grounds of the nearby Dutch Consulate. Today, despite various restrictions still in place, we are finally, again, meeting in person. It’s not the picturesque little chapel with all the history crammed to the gills with worshippers in tightly packed pews, but we’re thrilled to be together.

We sit on small, plastic stools, singing quietly, gratefully drinking in the cool water of a sermon about revival delivered to us by an Indian pastor speaking in our heart language. It certainly makes the water easier to guzzle, not having to struggle to understand! For many here, this is not their heart language, but they are thirsty enough to make the effort. We are about to participate in the covenant, communion, the remembrance of Christ’s death and the quiet group grows quieter.

This is my body, this is my blood. Remember me.

The assistants come forward. They have plastic gloves on, masks and face shields, and as they walk by I notice not one of them is Caucasian. I know from hearing them earlier that neither do any of them speak English with my particular accent.

I’m reminded of the visit we took a few months ago to Demre, a small coastal town in southwestern Turkey famous for being home to the original Saint Nicholas. We entered a church built in the year 520 on the site of an older church where the non-fat, non-jolly man served so well as bishop that a version of him remains well-known to this day. Inside the church is a dome with this fresco…

Can you see what’s happening? People are lining up to take communion from Saint Nicholas. In a church that is more than 1500 years old — people were participating in this covenant in a very similar way to us more than 1500 years ago!

This is my body, this is my blood. Remember me.

I reach for the cup and the bread and I close my eyes and I remember. I remember the actions of Jesus, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude. But I also remember the frescoes in the Hagia Sophia, the church that was the center of the Christian faith for more than 1000 years that sits a couple miles to our left. I remember the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation, all visitable within the borders of Turkey.

I remember the post I saw a couple weeks ago that showed the geographic movement of Christianity over time, which reminds me we are participating this morning with Jesus followers in China, in South America, in Europe, in the Arabian peninsula. We are participating with brothers and sisters who cannot meet in large groups for various reasons, and with those whose gathering is larger and louder than we can imagine. And most amazing of all, we are participating with people with whom we have absolutely nothing in common — other than this faith that makes us family.

This is my body, this is my blood. Remember me.

Who is this Jesus whom we are remembering? Whose body and blood people have been remembering for 2000 years, in a line unbroken even by COVID…or world war…or unimaginable personal or national tragedy…or natural disasters…or even post-modern culture that calls him irrelevant and his rules unsustainable…

For 2000 years people have dismissed him, marginalized him, said he was dead, old-fashioned, too restrictive, too closed-minded. And for 2000 years God has continued introducing new people to him.

What kind of God is this? A God who has proven himself so profoundly to individuals — across time, generation, culture, language, ethnicity, social status, financial level, personality type and any of the other thousand ways we use to divide ourselves — that his name has continued to be praised and worshipped and lifted high and talked about even after all this time.

This is my body, this is my blood. Remember me.

As human beings, we seem genetically programmed to divide ourselves over and over, moving predictably and inevitably from arguments to fist fights to world wars, but this God continues to consistently and reliably pull together people of diverse backgrounds and bring us into the unity of his Kingdom.

What a privilege to know and be known by the only God who has managed to enter and bring peace and community into almost every people group, almost every language, almost every culture throughout history and throughout time. And as soon as it moves from almost to every, the curtain will fall.

What a mighty, amazing, wonderful, powerful, awe-inspiring, unifying, patient, loving God we serve.

This is my body, this is my blood. Remember me.

We are still here, Jesus. We carry different passports, we read your life-giving words in different languages, and we express our worship of you in vastly different ways, but we are part of your one, single, unified body.

We have sinned in word and deed, in the things we have done and left undone, in the ways we have treated the foreigner and the family member, but we are washed in your blood.

We are living in a time of division and uncertainty unlike anything most of us have ever seen, but we humble ourselves before the Creator of the universe as we remember both your power and your track record.

We bow our heads in this moment of refuge while the chaos swirls outside, and we both accept and praise you for the small place you have chosen for us in this grand sovereign story you are telling, and there is much thankfulness in our hearts.

Together, today, we remember you.

Originally published in the Come & See newsletter, August 10, 2021. If you want to, you can click here to hand over your email address, which I will never do anything with but send you occasional newsletters. 🙂