October 5, 2014
World Communion Sunday
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
“What It Is - What It’s Not”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A preacher was completing a temperance sermon. With great expression he said, "If I had all the beer in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river!" The congregation nodded their approval. With even greater emphasis he added, "And if I had all the wine in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river, too!" The people clapped and were saying "Amen." And then finally, he concluded, "And if I had all the whiskey in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river!” As he sat down, the song leader then stood up quite cautiously and announced, "For our closing song, let us sing Hymn #365: "Shall We Gather at the River.”
For the past eleven hours, beginning somewhere in Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkministan and other places in that longitude, Christian churches of all kinds have been celebrating World Communion. Not all Christian churches will share in this celebration, but probably more people than we can realize will partake of the meal that Jesus gave us to ground us and unite us - not only over area, but over time. Although I didn’t get the full gist of this sacrament then, I do remember, as a child - all those long years ago, the celebration of this day being a little different.
In my study for this morning’s message, I came across a little article by Debra Dean Murphy that caught my attention. She is a member of something called the Ekklesia Project, a network of Christians who rejoice in a peculiar kind of friendship - a sort of intellectual friendship - rooted in their common love of God and the Church. Belonging to such a group made the title of her article even more interesting: “Why World Communion Sunday Is a Bad Idea.” (For those who don’t know me, I have this love of seeing the backside of things, thinking outside the box, as it were. For those who do know me, well, there you go.)
Anyway, Ms. Murphy gave three reasons that continuing to set aside the first Sunday in October to highlight the Church’s signature rite is not a good idea. And actually, here points have some value.
One: Observing something called “World Communion Sunday” one day of the year communicates the idea that The Lord’s Supper is special. But if Holy Communion really is the Church’s signature rite, if it is indeed that which makes the Church what it is, then “special” is exactly what it is not. We don’t think of the air we breathe as “special,” the breakfast we eat as “special.” These things are gifts, of course–breath and food–but it is in their givenness, their ordinariness that they are the means for life and health.
Two: Observing something called “World Communion Sunday” one day of the year suggests that Communion is our achievement. To the contrary: Ordinary food–grain and grape–symbolize (become) the extraordinary gifts of God–body and blood–through a power not our own. Our only task is to receive these gifts: to take, bless, break, and share them. And when we do this, we learn what it means to be a people for whom the whole of our life together is “one colossal unearned gift.”
Three: Observing something called “World Communion Sunday” one day of the year ignores, quite unintentionally, the world–the world, quite specifically, of injustice and oppression, of domination and exploitation. In Pope John Paul II‘s memorable phrase, the Holy Communion (Eucharist) is always celebrated “on the altar of the world.” Jesus’ suffering (body) links us to a suffering world. All of creation is caught up in the moment of thanksgiving (εὐχαριστία), and with thanksgiving, our task, then, our joy, is to love this world, not any other world. And to love the suffering world is to be one with it in the charity of Christ.
This Debra Dean Murphy is one insightful person, although I don’t believe her thoughts are great enough to dump the whole World Communion idea. She does, however, remind us that there is something quite moving after partaking of the bread and the cup, then going home, and laying your hands on that first piece of bread, or whatever you eat that is as common as bread, and realizing that it is your reminder of your connection to God, to the earth, and to each other. Or there is that realization, while having a cup of something to drink or a bite of something downstairs after church is a symbol of what Christians have done for centuries: sharing what they had with everyone else, so that their relationships would be all the stronger for the time and nourishment together.
Being humans, regardless of era or even faith, we sometimes get things a little wrong, even if that wrongness seems right in our own minds. The Christians that lived in the ancient Greek city of Corinth had sort of fallen into that idea. They had fallen into cliques and failed to include all of those God had given to them, and so one of the reasons the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians to to remind them of the core of their faith and what would be the best witness of their situation.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Thank you, Judy. There are a number of emphases that can be used on this day - from turning swords into plowshares, forgiveness, the unity of the worldwide church (especially in the representation of the different sorts of breads), the uniqueness and commonness of the meal, different but the same, laying down burdens or sins in order to receive grace and peace, serving one another, how we utilize all our senses in sharing this experience, and the list can go on. But for today, for this time, it may do us all more good to stop listening to my voice, so that we can all hear God’s voice.
Let us pray. Great God, Redeemer and Holy Spirit, we are mindful today of the richness of your blessing. You give us so much, so freely, so graciously, and today we are reminded of your call to follow after you, as Christ did, as best as we are able. Remind us, when we are home, where we are apt to forget, that we are yours through and through, in who we are and all the way to what we have. Help us to live in that notion of being your hands and feet to a world that is so different from us, and yet not so much. For all that we are - and all that we aren’t - your humble people say, Amen.