My daughter and I had the chance to visit an Anatolian “underground city” – an ancient network of caves, rooms, stairs, and graves carved by hand deep below the surface. What would have caused up to 20,000 souls in just this one colony to live their lives in subterranean darkness and gloom? Intense persecution. Early Christians, fleeing for their lives, were literally driven underground to survive.
Hunched over, using our cell phone flashlights, we descended staircase shafts and wandered through rough-hewn bedrooms and kitchens. Eventually, we found ourselves in a larger gathering room stabilized by arch supports.
We found the church.
I’m a tactile learner, so it was important for me to feel the rough walls, pause to breathe in the cave air, and picture a community of worshipers packed into this space. I imagine an old pastor with a long beard shuffling his way to the end of the room with a flickering candle illuminating the manuscript in his hand. Would he have read St. Peter’s epistle, comforting his underground flock with the knowledge they were not forgotten by Jesus? “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (emphases mine, 1 Peter 1:1-2, ESV).
And oh, to hear them sing! I could only imagine how the sound of the stone would have reverberated with thanksgiving to the God for who’s name they suffered. Would unsuspecting passersby on the ground above wondered at the faint echoes of song through one of the hidden ventilation shafts? In this case, both the saints and the rocks cried “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (See Luke 19:40.)
Someone in our little group suggested that we, too, should sing in this sacred place. “How about the song, Here I am to Worship?” asked a young girl. So together, blinking back tears, we sang the beautifully-ironic lyrics:
“Light of the world
You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes, let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You
Here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
You’re altogether lovely
Altogether wonderful to me…”
To enjoy the full song, see the video here.
Lord, thank you for an enduring faith – a faith that sustained my brothers and sisters who were counted worthy to suffer in the (literal) underground church. Thank you for being a Light in their darkness. Let me honor their legacy of faith by standing for You with boldness and courage in these dark days. Amen.