After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)
Several weeks ago I had one of the most moving experiences I have had in a long time. It was during the communion service at the church that Ian attends in Martinique, Temple Evangélique Baptiste. Communion was celebrated prior to the sermon. All those who participated stood in the aisle or in front of their seats and sang the French equivalent of the hymn, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” as the bread and cup were served. I could not prevent my jaw from quivering or the tears from coursing down my cheeks, almost to the point of embarrassment. Later in the service the associate pastor sat beside Charleen and me and translated the sermon from Creole to English so we could understand. The whole experience left me with an indelible memory. Why was it so moving?
Martinique is an island in the Caribbean about the same size as Berkshire County with a population just shy of a half million. Even though being in the Caribbean, as a province of France, it is characterized by the same secular/nominal Roman Catholicism that is common to mainland France, unlike most of the rest of the islands. As in New England, evangelical Christians are in the minority. Yet, here we were Christians, from different geographical locations, climates, cultures, and languages worshipping the same Lord and representing Christ with the same mandate to be salt and light in our respective locations.
Charleen and I weren’t staying in a resort and being served Margaritas on the beach. (Martinique is more agricultural than tourist). Ian actually had made arrangements for us to stay in the home of his former landlady, because his room is only about 8’ X 8’, and is located in the worst part of the capital city, Fort de France. (Well OK, it’s in the “red light” district.) But the rent is cheap, and it’s within convenient walking distance of where he teaches. Two of the other teaching assistants have been mugged in the city limits this year, and Ian was himself accosted by assailants, but he called their bluff and walked away, albeit in a heightened stated of anxiety. Anyway, in some respects it hasn’t been an easy year for him. So his church provides a bit of an oasis for him in the midst of the harsh realities of the world.
While worshipping there I could not help but think of Grace Church back here in Pittsfield. As you know, we have had a fair share of suffering. We have those who are grieving the fresh loss of a loved one, and we have those who are themselves facing very serious illness or have loved ones who are. We have those who are struggling with children or grandchildren who have turned their back on the Lord. And as I sat in Ian’s church I found myself wondering how many of those in attendance that day were dealing with similar struggles.
What I am saying is, we live in a fallen world whether we live on a tropical island or in cold New England. But the church is in a unique place, not geographically speaking of course, but by virtue of our very existence. It’s not just because we provide an oasis in a harsh world – we cannot fix all the suffering, although we can and should provide a caring community. But, more importantly because of what we represent. We represent a God who has chosen to enter into the harshness of our reality to redeem us and restore us to himself.
I told the associate pastor of the church in Martinique that being there was for me a foretaste of heaven. I don’t think he understood me to mean that his church service was so lovely that it made me think I was in heaven, although it was a lovely and moving service; but it was because the communion service that I was privileged to participate in there really was meant to be a foretaste of heaven, i.e. the marriage supper of the Lamb.
You see, whether we worship Jesus in Berkshire County or in Martinique, it’s the same. Whether we eat the bread in Massachusetts or in the Caribbean, it means the same. It’s the same Jesus, and it’s the same supper. Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:9)
How good God is!