Remember Me

On my first mission trip twenty years ago, I went to a small town in the hills of Haiti and discovered there the kinds of things I’d only read about in National Geographic.  The culture shock was … shocking. Naked children and goats roaming dirt roads. Nights that knew nothing of electric lighting. Nights blacker than I knew nights could be. Mornings punctuated by the shrill call of roosters. Air saturated with the pungent and ever-present odor of rotting mangoes.

I discovered a pace I didn’t realize I could go.  A pace so slow it angered me.  We spent a whole day tracking down the right size bolt to fix a machine, only to discover when we came back with said bolt that it didn’t fit.

I discovered tarantulas in the outhouse and half-built church buildings abandoned by well-meaning mission teams who went home with no idea of how fruitless their labor had been.

I discovered that American people look like money to some Haitian people.  I also discovered that joy and poverty can exist together in the same body. I saw a kind of joy I’d not seen before and have rarely seen since.

We found our village by taking a big plane to a small plane to a pick-up truck. We left in reverse, only there were about twenty people piled into the bed of our truck when we pulled out. Twenty people in the back of a Toyota pick-up. As we drove away from the village, a young man trotted along beside us. With so many people in our vehicle, we moved slowly, bumping along from pothole to pothole; it wasn’t hard to keep up.
This fellow kept pace for a while, then finally slowed to let us drive on. But before he left the side of the truck, he got near to my face, grabbed the side of the truck, and said, “Remember me.”

I could have promised him I would and I’d have been able to keep my word because twenty years later, I do.  I still remember that young man. Every time I take communion, I remember him. Every time I ask for a blessing over the elements, every time I say the liturgy, I remember him.

“This is my body, broken for you.  As often as you eat from this loaf, remember me.”

“This is my blood, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  As often as you drink from this cup, remember me.”

I wonder if that young man was recalling the words of Jesus when he asked me that day to remember him. For that matter, I wonder if Jesus (the same yesterday, today and forever) was hearing that young man’s voice when he spoke those words to his friends? After all, he was one Jesus died for.  He was one Jesus loved. Jesus knew him.

Is it possible that no communion is really communion unless we take it with a promise to remember that young man in Haiti or the old woman in India, or the child in Vietnam or the militant student in Iraq? Among all the other meanings of the Eucharist, could it also mean that we honor these elements only when we take them with the world in our hearts? Only when we remember the least, the last and the lost, the ones for whom Jesus gave his life?

Given that Jesus himself teaches that love for God reveals itself most honestly in love for others, perhaps all of worship works only when it is done remembering this man, that woman, those who are hurting.  The brokenhearted, the blind, the lame, the poor.

Running alongside our truck, clinging to the side, asking me to remember him, that young man spoke a word of theology I couldn’t have learned any other way.  He taught me what it means to worship with the Kingdom to come in mind.  When I come before the throne of God to worship, I am challenged to come with him in tow.  I am charged by the Great Commission to come with company, or I dare not come at all.

When I stand before the throne, when I take the elements, when I claim grace for myself, I do so remembering that young man, remembering all those for whom Christ died, remembering all those still waiting for a fair account of the gospel.  Only then, with them in my heart, can I truly worship in Spirit and in Truth.

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