“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 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.’”
I admit it: I am easily sucked in by a good headline. When I’m online, I have to fight the urge not to click on every good, compelling title. I have learned to check the source before doing so. There is a lot of “clickbait” online, especially on Facebook. But I do enjoy a good headline.
Sometimes headlines are straightforward. When it says “10 Reasons Not to Buy a Labrador,” it will provide you with 10 things you should consider before buying that adorable chocolate lab puppy your neighbor is selling—like the fact that they shed a lot, they need a lot of exercise, and they stay puppies a long time. But sometimes the headlines may be tongue in cheek. An article entitled “10 Reasons Not to Move to Maine” may be satire, and the number one reason might be because Maine is so wonderful, it will spoil you for living anywhere else.
In my sermon preparation this week I came across an article with a provocative title that I assumed was the latter kind—a satire, or at least a tongue-in-cheek approach. It was called “Why World Communion Sunday Is a Bad Idea.” I opened the article to see why World Communion Sunday really is a good idea; but no, the article insists that it’s a bad idea. I disagreed with every point. Or I guess I should say that I thought her premises were faulty so I didn’t find any of her arguments logical or persuasive. But she made one point I want to share with you. She wrote:
“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.”
I take issue with that point. I don’t think celebrating World Communion Sunday ignores the world at all—at least not if you do it right. But the author went on to quote “Pope John Paul II’s memorable phrase, the Eucharist is always celebrated ‘on the altar of the world.’ Jesus’ suffering body [represented by the broken bread] links us to a suffering world. All of creation is caught up in the moment of eucharistia”—let me pause here to say that eucharistia is the Greek word from which we get the word Eucharist; and Eucharist is the word that many churches use for this meal that we call “Communion.” In the Greek the literal meaning is thanksgiving. So let me go back to that quote from the article. “All of creation is caught up in the moment of eucharistia, 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.”
Now we’re getting to the heart of what World Communion Sunday is about. It is not about eating this bread and drinking from this cup on the same day that all Christians around the world take communion. World Communion Sunday reminds us to be aware of the world and our place in it and our connection to everyone on the earth. We are in communion—we are in relationship—with all the world.
We are in communion with those who have no bread. We are in communion with those who have no clean water to drink. We are in communion with those who have lost their homes to hurricanes fueled by warmer waters. We are in communion with those whose families are torn apart at our borders. As we break the bread, the body of Christ, we are connected with all who suffer. We recognize World Communion Sunday not because we’re not in communion with those who suffer all year round, but because this is the day we remind ourselves, so that we never forget.
I recently read a portion of a speech written, but never delivered, by President John F. Kennedy. He was to deliver it to members of his political party in Dallas, but was assassinated earlier that day. These words reverberate across the decades.
President John F. Kennedy would have said: “This is a time for courage and a time for challenge. Neither conformity nor complacency will do. Neither the fanatics nor the faint-hearted are needed. And our duty as a party is not to our party alone, but to the Nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom.
So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation’s future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause–united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future — and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.”
We are united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future. We are in communion with one another (like it or not!). Only then can we move into those new frontiers of peace and abundance.
On Friday I was reminded of a six week meditation group I led at my last church. Each week we experimented with a different kind of meditation. On the last session we had a meditation centered around communion. I placed the bread and the cup of juice on the table, and we gathered around it—a small group in the church library, surrounded by books nobody ever read, and overseen by the stern face of one of the founders whose picture always frightened young children. The instructions were simple: to silently pray and to give thanks for everyone you could think of who participated in the process of getting that bread and juice to that table. Sounds straight forward enough, right?
As I led the meditation, I had no idea how much time to give for people to go through this prayer in their minds. I didn’t want everybody sitting there long after they had finished the exercise, wondering if I was ever going to bring it to a close; nor did I want to cut anybody off. So of course I participated myself, and when I felt like I was finished, I peeked around. Some people seemed done, while others were still absorbed. I gave it a little more time and then drew everyone back in. One woman seemed relieved. But another woman said, “Oh, shoot! I had only gotten through the farm workers!”
I was surprised—not because one person wasn’t ready when others were, but because I had pretty much started with the farm workers. I thanked those who plowed the field. I thanked those who planted the wheat. I thanked those who harvested. Then I moved on to the processing, production, transportation, etc. How could she possibly still be on the farm workers? I don’t know for sure, but looking back, and knowing who she is, I think she started way earlier in the process than I did, and went much wider.
She would have thanked those who had cleared the trees and removed the rocks and worked the land for generations before. I thanked the person who planted the seed. She would have also thanked the person who did that person’s laundry, or who rubbed their aching shoulders, or who bandaged their wounds so they could work again tomorrow.
I thanked the person who drove the combine. I bet she thanked the small farmer who used a scythe and twine, who beat the stalks by hand.
I thanked the person who drove the bread truck to deliver it to my store. She would have also apologized to the earth for the fossil fuels that truck used.
Looking back, I don’t think she followed my instructions to the letter of the law. I said to thank the people, but I’m willing to bet she didn’t stop there. I think she thanked the earth, for sharing its richness. I think she thanked the rivers and the rain for watering the wheat. I’m guessing she thanked the animals who walked through the field. I bet she thanked the vine that yielded the grapes, and thanked the grapes for their yield.
My eucharistia, my thanksgiving, was limited because my vision was limited, my connection to the earth was limited. The further we get from the farm, from the vineyard, from the earth, then the more limited we are in what we see, in how connected we feel.
We can make daily choices that destroy the environment because we don’t personally see the damage. We can use those plastic bags because we don’t have to watch the sea turtles die after ingesting them. The problem is not limited to climate issues, of course. We have the same problem in so many areas. People can say things online they would never say in person—because they don’t have to see the person’s face when they say it. We can bomb countries far away and only see a blip on a video screen, not witness the devastation firsthand. With today’s technology, we have never been more connected, and we have never been more solitary.
And that is why we need communion. That is why we need bread broken and juice made from the crushing of grapes. That’s why we need this meal that remembers betrayal and foretells suffering and is given to all, for all, who suffer. This is World Communion Sunday, when we remember that we are one world, one people, one family. We need a family reunion, a family communion, so come to this table of grace.