Today is World Communion Sunday. That may not mean much to us disciples who celebrate communion every Sunday, but for most churches communion is celebrated only a handful of times a year or less.
Out of the brokenness of the human community that resulted from World War II, a Presbyterian minister declared the first Sunday in October to be World Communion Sunday and urged all churches to celebrate communion together to show the world our Christian unity. This day would emulate and embody Psalm 133:1 that says, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” That’s an interesting verse isn’t it? In a world that is horribly divided, that verse becomes rather ironic. It would have been ironic for the Corinthian church, and it is ironic for the Christian Church today.
I’ll admit, for as much as I love World Communion Sunday and the thought that Christians everywhere are emulating and embodying unity, there are still Christians who have trouble with this day. They don’t have trouble with “Communion Sunday” but rather they have trouble with the word “World.” “World”, after all, implies other people. Other people implies Christians other than me; Christians who believe differently from the way I believe; Christians who probably don’t think I’m a Christian because of my beliefs; Christians who, if they were in a room together with me and I mentioned a social, Biblical, or theological topic would argue and become angry with me. “World” implies approaching the Lord’s Table with those who don’t look like me, sound like me, dress like me, live like me, believe like me. Meaning for some, anything “worldly” is a deal-breaker.
World Communion Sunday used to be called “Worldwide Communion Sunday” but somewhere along the way the “wide” got dropped. That’s ok though, right? We want our communion to be as narrow as possible. This, at least, seems to be the modern way of Christianity. It seems Christianity is becoming less inclusive and more restricted; less communal and more individualized.
Christianity is separating into groups of “like minded” and “like spirited” individuals who believe that God is on their side and not on the side of those not like them. It is no longer good enough to be called a Christian. Now we have to be called an “Evangelical Christian” or a “Born-again Christian” or a Bible-believing Christians” or a “Delivered Christian”.
And now, in this political season, the church is divided up between Red State conservative Christians and Blue State liberal Christians. It’s the anti-gay, anti-evolution, anti-abortion Christians against the pro-gay, pro-evolution, pro-life Christians.
All of it makes me cringe when I read “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” What unity?!
Christianity is becoming narrower all the time, and it is something that has been happening even from the beginning of the church. Paul saw it, and he warned the church about it. When the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in the first-century church, it was done somewhat differently from how we usually do it today.
In the early church, the Lord’s supper was observed as part of an actual meal that believers ate together. They ate to satisfy normal hunger, but at some point in the meal, they shared some bread and wine, probably along with prayer, to make the symbolic connection to Jesus’ last meal. In fact, we can surmise from reading the text that the meal itself was something like a potluck dinner, with each family bringing food to share.
We can further surmise from the context reading that some Christians in Corinth were better off financially than others, and thus they had the resources to bring better food to the meal. Less-well-off people brought what they could, but it was more common fare. This led to a problem because instead of everybody sharing what they had brought, those who brought the better food wanted to eat that food themselves without sharing it.
Paul points out the problem: “For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.” In other words, Corinthian Christians, and those who have the same attitude that they want what they want and “deserve”, are missing the whole point of the Lord’s supper. It isn’t to promote a “look out for yourself” attitude, but to unite us to become one in the body of Christ.
The Christian life was never meant to be solitary, with each person content to work on just his or her own spiritual relationship apart from others—it is meant to be one in a united community—not in what we look like and how we think—but in how we are and how we live. But the reality is—the church today is as divided and narrow as the world. We read every day about how the world is disunited and cannot live together—that it’s not good and it’s not pleasant. Christians against Muslims, Muslims against Christians. America against Afghanistan and Iran and China, everyone against America. Republicans against Democrats, Democrats against Republicans. On and on and on with the world coming apart at the seams, all of it making me and probably you ask: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!? What unity?!”
Little by little we drift apart from others, separate ourselves from those who are different, put distance between us and certain people. Our differences are legion. They are cultural, racial, political, and theological, making it easy to exclude and dispute. We convince ourselves its reasonable, and so we become good at building walls around our egos and keeping others out. We become good at turning our backs on those who disagree with us. We become good at pulling away from those who do not belong to our clique or follow our way.
“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” The Psalmist sure wasn’t talking about the church! Living in unity is what Christians these days seem to do the least well. Perhaps that’s why we removed the word “wide” from this Sunday.
Maybe, we’ll just remove this whole day from the church calendar all together because why pretend to be united one Sunday a year when, really, if the whole Church were physically gathered around one table, we would get into such a food fight that Jesus would wish he had stayed in his father’s carpentry business.
When we gather together on World Communion Sunday, when we gather around our Lord’s Table we are faced with two questions:
How do we hate someone whom God loves?
How do we refuse to show compassion to one for whom Christ died?
When we faithfully answer these questions then we begin to see a clear portrait of why World Communion Sunday is so important.
Paul’s lesson to the Corinthians and to us, along with World Communion Sunday, then become both reflections of the unity the Psalmist is talking about. Both call for Christians to, in the midst of fearsome times, against all odds, gather together to lay aside our differences and celebrate our unity.
Unity, however, not based upon what we have in common, but a unity based upon God’s love for all people. World Communion Sunday restores a vision that calls us out of our individualism, our exclusiveness, our divisiveness and into a unified meal where we discover something fundamental—that we are all in need of God’s grace and love.
Every time we exclude; every time we turn our backs upon others; every time we bicker and argue and separate ourselves from another, we move farther and farther away from the truth that we are never as right as we believe we are, and others are never as wrong as we believe they are.
God’s love for us is not more or less than God’s love for those who are not like us. We are all saved by the grace of God because we are all sinful at heart—that we have in common.
World Communion Sunday is meant to be a portrait of unity. God calls us to sit down and recognize that yes, we have many differences; yes, we have had many misunderstandings and arguments; yes, we have not always understood the ways of others—but when we sit and break bread and eat with one another as a family, we all eat and drink the meal that creates the unity we’ve lost. It unifies us into the One Body of Jesus Christ.
Today, as we come to the Lord’s Table with millions and millions of Christians around the world, in a world deeply divided by political and ethnic and religious ideology, may this day be a portrait—even if people say impossible— a portrait of God’s love for the whole world and for all people.
In a world so divided; in a church so disunited, such a vision may seem impossible but it is a portrait we would be wise to look at each and every day, if only to be inspired and motivated to live each and every day ready and willing to make the portrait a reality. We must never lose the vision of how good and pleasant it is, and can truly be, when kindred live together in unity.
So may the gazing upon this portrait of unity start anew, today, on World Communion Sunday, as we gather with our world family and embody in God’s Holy Communion, not just in a sign of unity, but as a unified way of life. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer, World Communion Sunday, October 2, 2016
Eternal God, we are blessed to be invited to the table of our Lord with all our Christian sisters and brothers on this World Communion Sunday. We pray that we would be able to feel the strength of your church universal. May we deepen our commitment to be part of the body of Christ. May we have our vision for our world be elevated. And may our mission in this time and place be made clear.
God of grace, on this World Communion Sunday we pray for our fragile world. It is too often a world where choices are made in hatred, where violence is being planned and perpetrated, where human beings turn away from their neighbor in ager.
So we pray you swing low your spirit of reconciliation and unity, and transform those hearts with love. But we must admit those hearts are often our own hearts.
So may you help us your children, here and around the world, foresee our proclivity for war, and turn it toward a desire for peace. May you help your church, here and around the world, by giving it a faith that is powerful and transformative and whose influence is felt to the farthest corners of the globe.
It is our desire to be those who not just observe this day, but that we are people and a church that seeks to live out all this day represents.
We pray you give us the faith to know we hold the key to a power we too often leave untapped. Give us the faith to know that though we individually feel we have little to offer, you can multiply the effects of our efforts. Give us the faith to believe we can overcome all that makes our world fragile, that we can overcome the hate, violence, and anger—and that we cannot just transform ourselves, but that we can transform the world.
On this World Communion Sunday, may you hear this prayer, and may you hear the prayers of our hearts as we offer them to you in this time of Holy Silence.
All of this we pray in the name of Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”