While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Today is what we in the Christian church call “World Communion Sunday.” And it’s been four years since I ruined this day for you. I told you what I had then only recently learned: that apparently World Communion Sunday is not as world-wide as we’ve always believed.
World Communion Sunday originated in a Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh in 1933. The celebration “was adopted as a denominational practice in the Presbyterian Church (US) in 1936. Churches in other denominations were invited to celebrate from the beginning, but it wasn’t until 1940 when the … predecessor body of the National Council of Churches promoted [it] that the practice became widespread. Today, World Communion Sunday is celebrated around the world.” This is a quote from a Presbyterian website and is consistent with what I’ve always believed.
But then Facebook came along, and clergy in the U.S. started talking about World Communion Sunday, and pastors in other parts of the world asked, “What’s that?” Someone from the U.K. said she’d never heard of it, and someone originally from Canada said she hadn’t heard of it until moving to the U.S. Soon the conversation had many of us asking, “Is World Communion Sunday only celebrated in the U.S.? Then what makes it ‘WORLD’ Communion Sunday?”
I still have not been able to get a definitive answer to the question of how widely it is celebrated. I am thinking that perhaps churches around the world that have ties with a U.S. denomination (say, for example, the Korean Presbyterian Church) may indeed honor World Communion Sunday because it is promoted by the Presbyterian Church. But the millions of people around the world who belong to churches not affiliated with the U.S. may have never heard of it.
This bothered me … first because I have always loved this image of people all over the world celebrating the Lord’s Supper together and aware of one another as we gather and eat bread or rice, to drink Welch’s or merlot or coconut milk. I love this idea that we are all celebrating communion in our own ways, but aware of one another doing the same. But as I thought more, it began to bother me more because it seems like such a symbol of American ethnocentrism—to create something that the whole world is supposed to join us in and then not even notice if they don’t. (Imagine if they took a sports championship that was based in the US and called it the World Series … oh wait!)
Now, before you get discouraged, remember that many churches around the world take communion every Sunday, so people around the world are sharing in communion today. Plus, it’s much more important for us to think of this day not as the day that everybody does what we do, but as the day we stand in solidarity with others, with a greater awareness of the world and the world’s needs. World Communion Sunday should be a day that reminds us we are in communion, in relationship, with people around the world.
Of course, it’s not only other Christians with whom we should be in solidarity. Yes, this meal, with the broken bread and shared cup, is about Jesus. It is how we remember his last meal with his disciples, his brokenness. But it is also how we remember our own brokenness and how we acknowledge the brokenness of others, and our common need for healing, for community, and for belonging.
When Jackie preached two weeks ago, she talked about the power of community—how important it is to have a place you can go, a people you can turn to, in times of need. Her sermon reminded me of Shelley and Engle. Shortly after they started attending my church, they invited me to come to their home. At that meeting they explained to me their situation. They had moved to the area to be near their daughter, who was in college, because Engle had mesothelioma, the disease you get from asbestos. He had already outlived the doctors’ predictions, so they weren’t sure how much time he had left. Maybe a year. “We’ve been looking for a church,” Engle said, “because Shelley will need one when the time comes. I need the church now, but Shelley will really need it when I’m gone. We’ve had trouble finding such a community. Your church is the one. We would like to join.”
They were asking a lot. They were asking us to welcome them both into our family, get to know them and care about them, all while knowing that Engle would probably die within the year. It was asking a lot—and it was the greatest complement our church had ever received. Being chosen to walk the path of grief with someone is quite an honor. I’m so glad Engle knew what he needed, and where to turn for it. He knew about brokenness.
Engle and Shelley and I talked about a lot of things over the next year. By the end he had lost the ability to speak, but before then, he loved to tell stories. One of his favorites was of his daughter when she was about eight years old, if my memory serves. One day, out of the blue, she sighed and said, “Do you all remember when I could fly?” When she was little, Engle used to hold her around the waist and zoom her around the room. It naturally stopped as she got bigger, and looking back, she didn’t realize that he had been holding her. She just thought she could fly. Engle told that story because he needed me to know it. And he needed to be assured that he had, indeed, taught his daughter that she could fly. We could have become Shelley’s church after Engle died, but it wouldn’t have been the same. If we were going to walk with her through her grief, we needed to know the man she loved. We needed to know his stories.
Another dear woman in that church was named Barb. When her husband died, she told me that one of the hardest things would be “There’s nobody to hear my silly stories.” I told her she could email me every day with her silly stories if she wanted. I told her I wouldn’t always have time to write back, but she could write me every day. And so she did. Every Monday through Friday I received an email from Barb. (She gave me the weekends off.) So I always knew what the grocery store had on sale each week because she would write and tell me what she’d purchased for her weekly meal with her son David. She told me about lunches with friends, and how they’d gotten her drinking that white zinfandel wine when she was really a bourbon gal! She needed to tell her stories in order to be seen.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Our nation is deeply divided, and it feels like we may never be whole, may never be able to work together for the common good. Our entire world feels like it is spinning out of control. But at the root of our division is our common humanity, our common pain, our common brokenness. If we can get in touch with our own humanity, perhaps we can recognize one another’s, regardless of what divides us. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is credited with saying, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together…. We must be ready to learn from one another, not claiming that we alone possess all truth and that somehow we have a corner on God.” To see one another’s humanity, we have to hear one another’s stories.
I told you a few weeks ago about the Broadway musical Come From Away. It’s a story about what happened on 9/11 when American air space closed, and international flights were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. A town of 9000 people welcomed 7000 people into their community—feeding them, housing them, and trying to meet all their needs for several days, until the airplanes were allowed to fly to the U.S. It wasn’t always easy. There were culture clashes and tensions were running high, and people’s fears exploded all over one another. A Muslim man was interrogated by authorities and then treated with great suspicion by his fellow passengers. One of the Newfoundlanders set up the library as a place of prayer, where he and others could practice their faith without fear.
There was a rabbi on one of the flights. One of the old men in the village came to see him, with a confession. “I was born in Poland,” he said. “My parents—they were Jews. They sent me away when I was just a boy and told me never to tell anyone I was Jewish. Not even my wife. But after what happened on Tuesday, so many stories gone, just like that! I needed to tell someone.” Even though he had never told a soul, he still remembered the prayers he had learned as a child.
Another man said he woke from a dream with a song in his head—a song he recognized but couldn’t remember from where. He finally remembered that it was a hymn, a prayer. And even though he hadn’t been to church in years, it came back when he needed it. Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. So a Christian song and a Jewish song are woven together. I asked Amelia and her friends Sophie and Hannah to sing it for us.
Make me a channel of your peace. Make us a channel of your peace. Regardless of religion or nationality, gender or sexual orientation, regardless of political party or immigration status, unite us, O God, and make us channels of your peace.
The woman who created the image on the cover of your bulletin this morning also wrote a blessing, what she calls a Table Blessing, to go with it.
To your table
you bid us come.
You have set the places,
you have poured the wine,
and there is always room,
for one more.
And so we come.
From the streets
and from the alleys
From the deserts
and from the hills
From the ravages of poverty
and from the palaces of privilege
We are bloodied with our wars,
we are wearied with our wounds,
we carry our dead within us,
and we reckon with their ghosts.
We hold the seeds of healing,
we dream of a new creation,
we know the things
that make for peace,
and we struggle
to give them wings.
And yet, to your table
Hungering for your bread,
thirsting for your wine,
singing your song
in every language,
speaking your name
in every tongue,
in conflict and in communion,
in discord and in desire,
O God of Wisdom,
Let us join together in the Statement of Faith printed in your bulletin. It will be spoken by a variety of voices. I invite everyone to join in on the sections marked “ALL.”
And so we come, to this table where all are welcome. You don’t have to be a member of this church or of any church in order to participate. It is God’s table and it is open to all.
We remember the meal, with friends gathered around. We remember the blessing and the breaking. We remember the brokenness. We remember the cup, filled perhaps with the product of many vineyards, pressed down and mixed together into wine. We remember the sharing, and the command: do this in remembrance.
We will serve by intinction today, which means you will be invited to tear off a piece of bread and dip it in the juice. There will be four stations—two in the front and two in the back—and the ushers will guide you to the nearest station by the center aisle. You can return to your seat by the side aisle. If you have mobility issues, please remain seated and we will serve you there. If you have gluten allergies, rice crackers and water are available on the stand up front. Would the servers please come forward.
 Jan Richardson from In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season