A Crematorium Sanctuary

Easter Sunday in this place is different than it is in the USA. There is no talk of family meals or imaginary rabbits, or chocolate or jelly beans. No, Easter Sunday here is like any other Sunday–just another day of the week. But even in a place such as this, the Church lives.

We journey to the edge of the city that morning. We are not sure exactly where we are going, so the taxi drops us off in the vicinity of our destination and we walk the rest of the way. As we draw closer, our guide informs us that we will be worshiping in a legally sanctioned international church. “They meet in the place where they burn bodies,” she says, not knowing the word for it in English. We say, “oh, you mean a crematorium?” She confirms, and we continue walking.

The building is a whitewashed brick chapel with a large redbrick smoke stack jutting at least 75 feet into the morning sky. The road leading down to it is busy with foot traffic. We join the international believers as we journey to the building. When we enter the sanctuary the service is already in motion.  Rows and rows of fellow believers are seated in chairs that fill the chapel. The atmosphere is different than other churches I have been in. People here don’t dance like Africans, or stand like Americans, but they sit, while they sing worship to Jesus—and that’s okay.

The sermon is orated bilingually by an American man, and a local man. It is not flashy, or acted out, it does not rely on any multi-media applications. It is simply an oration of the word of God. It is a veneration of the person and work of Christ on the cross and ultimately an illustration of the amazing Gospel that is revealed in the resurrection of Christ.

When the sermon is over, the church is dismissed and everyone goes about their business. Our after church Easter meal is very non-traditional and our company a bit different than we were used to. But it is still one of my favorite celebrations of Easter ever—there were no distractions from the main thing. It was all about Jesus, and that’s it.

In recent months I have thought a lot about this Easter in a land not so close to home and it has led me to begin reflecting on the global reality of the Church. Not just the local body of believers, but the “Big C” Church; the entire family of God. I have thought about where we were the week after Easter. How we were once again among believers. Though, we were in a different country and a different building, we were still taking part in the same Church. The church that we stood in that day existed within a geographic land mass that reviles those who choose to follow Jesus. Its very presence is one of those “but, God” kinds of events.  I also thought about the churches that I have been a part of in Africa. Small 10 person churches held in mud brick buildings, all the way up to large 1000 person churches held in glass cathedrals; from the Hadza church to the Maasai church, to churches in places like Nairobi. And finally I have thought on the churches that are so close to home—the American churches that have played such a major role in my life.  And in all my ponderings on the Church I have learned just a few important things.

I have learned to see God’s vision for the Church. I have grown in reverence for it. I have begun to see the Church with a wider lens. I have begun to see it as prolific, as ordained. I have realized that it is so much bigger than I ever considered. That it is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-generational, living body of Jesus followers, God fearers, and Holy Spirit bearers. It is cross cultural, time transcendent, and global. And it thrives in even the darkest places on earth. It has hit me that even in spite of all its downfalls and weaknesses and shortcomings that the Church is doing some amazing things in the world under the leadership of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. I love how it breaks through impossible barriers, how it grows stronger in the face of great opposition, and how it breaths the breath and life of God wherever it goes.

I am utterly astounded by the vastness and strength and power of the Church. Not in a geopolitical way, but in the way that it is so frequently carried by faithful feet into some of the darkest, most unlikely places on earth. It is utterly prolific. It exists on every continent and in every nation. It exists even in nations that believe they have expelled it from their midst. And it is not dead, NO! It is alive and thriving and fulfilling God’s mission to reach the world, and meeting people’s needs, and loving them passionately with Christ-like love! That’s right, it is nowhere near dead, but is as alive as every born again believer of whom it is composed.

I love the Church! And I love God, who called it into being! It is Amazing!

Thinking back on that Easter in a land far from home I have learned a lot about the Church. And I have gained this one final thought:

There we stood in a crematorium sanctuary. In a building where they burn bodies and remember the dead, on an Easter Sunday nearly 2000 years after our King Jesus became the first and only person in history to concur death.  And we worshiped alongside international believers who, just as we did, heard the Gospel from the mouths of faithful saints, who also heard it from the mouths of faithful saints, who generations before heard it from the mouth of Christ himself. And there we were celebrating Christ’s life and our new life in him—conquering death—in that crematorium sanctuary.

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