This past Sunday was World Communion Sunday – a day in which churches all around the globe celebrate the Lord’s Supper as one body, one giant, beautiful, diverse family of God. So instead of a regular sermon, we read a little bit about the history of World Communion Sunday, then continued with various Scripture readings and stories of communion from around the world. Interspersed are my own thoughts on the different pieces.
World Communion Sunday – A History
“All who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” (I Cor. 11:29)
World Communion Sunday celebrates our oneness in Christ with all our brothers and sisters around the world. Paul tells us that we are to “discern the body” when we partake of Holy Communion, mindful that we note our relationship to all our brothers and sisters in Christ as a way of continuing the ancient Christian practice of sharing what we have with brothers and sisters in need.
World Communion Sunday is actually a gift of the Presbyterian Church to the larger ecumenical church. The first celebration occurred at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933 where Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr served as pastor.
World Communion Sunday grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside. It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.
In describing how the idea of World Communion Sunday spread from that first service to the worldwide practice today, Donald Kerr, the son of the late Rev. Kerr, said, “The concept spread very slowly at the start. People did not give it a whole lot of thought. It was during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold, because we were trying to hold the world together. World Wide Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense. It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Celebration of World Wide Communion Sunday was adopted as a denominational practice in the Presbyterian Church (US) in 1936. Churches in other denominations were invited to celebrate as well from the beginning, but it wasn’t until 1940 when the Department of Evangelism of the Federal Council of Churches (a predecessor body of the National Council of Churches) promoted extending the celebration to a number of churches around the world that the practice became widespread. Today, World Communion Sunday is celebrated around the world, demonstrating that the church founded on Jesus Christ peacefully shares God-given goods in a world increasingly destabilized by globalization and global market economies based on greed.
My thoughts …
The world we live in today is a shattered and broken one. Our nightly news is full of stories that bring to our attention all that is wrong with the world. There is violence rampant in our world. We’ve seen it in the conflict in Syria and the attacks at the mall in Kenya and at the Naval Yard in Washington, D.C. There is such a fracturing of relationships and respect in our nation’s capital that the government itself has shut down. Our nation’s leaders have become more concerned with pointing fingers than they have with working together for the good of the people. Thousands of people across the country – our friends and family, our neighbors and maybe even ourselves – are struggling financially because of unemployment and severe underemployment, unable to pay the necessary bills, to feed families or afford necessary medications. And every day, students in schools across the country are so viciously and relentlessly bullied by their peers that they decide the only way to cope is to take their own lives. This is the world that we live in … and yet, when we approach the table, we are reminded that God cares for each and every one of us. We are welcomed to this spiritual feast just as we are with all our talents and all our flaws, all our joys and all our struggles. And on this special Sunday, we come to the table with all those brothers and sisters around the world who are struggling, just like we are … who are celebrating oneness in the body of Christ, just like we are … who are in need of being bathed in God’s grace, just like we are … who desire to see God’s reign of peace and justice envelop this earth, just as we do. When we celebrate communion today, we come with our family and friends here [at First Congregation UCC, Zumbrota/at the Presbyterian Church of Oronoco], but we also come with brothers and sisters across the world to declare boldly, “God loves me. God loves you. God’s love is for all.”
World Communion Sunday: Worship with One Who Feels Forgotten
Written by Scott Couper
September 9, 2012
When I think of World Communion Sunday, I imagine hundreds, thousands, if not millions of Christians worshipping together in large churches, cathedrals and even stadiums together at once. There is a sense in which a grandiose setting with numerous people evokes a sense of solidarity, strength, certainty and majesty that can only be engendered by magnitude.
Yet, when I read Hebrews 2:5-12, I am confronted with another perspective about what evokes solidarity, strength, certainty and even majesty. How about intimacy? How about diminution? How about humility? How about deference?
After experiencing bold and powerful Sunday worship in the church, the band of believers at iThafamasi Congregational Church, the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) travelled to an even more remote area called eMakhasini to visit one old church woman, aged 97, in her dark and simple hut.
Mina Luthuli laid in her bed, dressed in her church uniform, and softly cried tears of joy as we served her the bread and the wine.
In such an intimate setting, I sensed a solidarity that would rival a stadium filled to capacity. In such a humble setting, I experienced a majesty that would rival any felt in a cathedral.
“You have made them for a little while lower than the angels” (Heb 2:7). Jesus’ example demonstrates to us that perhaps diminution and deference for the least of us provides all with strength and certainty.
This World Communion Sunday, worship with one who feels forgotten.
My thoughts …
Each and every one of us knows what it’s like to feel alone. We know what it’s like to hurt. We know what it’s like to feel empty. We know what it’s like to feel unneeded, unwanted, unloved. But in partaking in the bread and the cup of Christ – in remember the sacrifice of body and blood that Jesus gave so freely for our salvation – we are lifted up. We are shown a light in the darkness. But even as we are bathed in the warmth of God’s grace, we cannot forget that others are suffering. Others feel broken and lost, alone and hopeless. We come to this table for our own spiritual renewal, but when we come, we are reminded that the One who first laid out this feast spent his time with those who lived their lives on the margins – the outcasts, the sinner, the forgotten and the oppressed. We are reminded that before he himself came to this table, Jesus humbled himself by washing the cracked and dirty feet of his companions. So while we bring our own brokenness to this table, we also leave it with the responsibility and the joy of reaching out to others in their brokenness with the same hand of love that God extends to us.
Comfort in Communion
Written by Scott Couper
September 7, 2012
Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Driving to worship on Sunday, I looked over the cliff a few kilometers from my church to see, hundreds of feet down, a battered and mangled bus on its side. I could see school uniforms, lunches and books scattered down the ravine. Seven dead children’s bodies had already been removed. Another fifty children were taken to hospital, many critical.
In seminary, ministry students study ‘theodicy’ – why and how God ‘allows’ human suffering. Of course, no amount of theological enlightenment fully prepares one to walk in partnership with a community that in the midst of tragedy asks the same question. As suggested by Job’s friends, sin is often blamed. The driver was speeding. A mechanic took a short cut. Someone passed on a corner. Corruption wastes money that should have been spent on road infrastructure. Historic injustices continue, perpetuating South Africa’s income disparity – the highest in the world.
At the iThafamasi Congregational Church, one must acknowledge that human sin exists and has consequences. But, the community asks, “How does God ‘allow’ children to suffer the sins of others?” In a community with no water, electricity, jobs, tarred roads – how much more suffering must a community endure? Children on a rare school trip, journeying to expand their minds in class and bodies in sport are suddenly dashed upon the rocks.
On Sunday, real life interrupted the lectionary. Questions were asked of me. I offered perspectives. Yet, I had only one answer: Holy Communion.
The mystery of Jesus Christ. God with us. Solidarity. Suffering transformed into healing through the Cross. Death to eternal life. Hope. And I pray, comfort.
My thoughts …
We often have questions for God. we want to know how the things that Go wrong in our lives could possibly considered “fair.” We want to know where God is when we’re struggling. We want to know why bad things happen to good people. “What were you thinking, God? Where were you then? Where are you now? What are you going to do about this tragedy?” And then we hear the invitation to the table, Christ’s simple, one-word summons: “Come.” There are no strings attached. Jesus doesn’t say, “Come … but leave your baggage behind. Come … but leave your questions behind. Come … but only if you’ve met these specific conditions.” Christ simply says, “Come.” And so we find assurance that at the table, we will find peace and comfort, love and acceptance. We may not find the answer that we seek, but we can be certain that we will find God – a God who cares for us above all else, a God who grieves with us when we grieve and knows us better than we know ourselves. This is the God who waits for us at the feast.
Communion in Hungary
Written by Amy Lester
September 10, 2013
Starpoint Reformed Youth Festival communion service
This summer the Reformed Church in Hungary held a week-long youth festival in the small town of Mezőtúr, Hungary. Starpoint, as the festival is known, is put on every other year with a different theme and venue each year. This year nearly 4,000 young people came together and discussed the theme of Identity with the message: Be who you are.
On the last day, everyone gathered at the main stage for a closing service and communion. It’s quite a sight to see 4,000 young people come together around the Lord’s Table. The week was focused on finding yourself and what it means to have a Christian identity, yet as people approached the table, it was no longer about individuals but about community.
The area in front of the main stage was soon full of participants reflectively waiting to be served. It was a moment that truly showed that while we are all unique in our Christian identities, we are all one at the table of the Lord, and despite our individual shortcomings, all are welcome through Christ’s sacrifice and the grace of God.
My thoughts …
“While we are all unique in our Christian identities, we are all one at the table of the Lord.” Each and every one of us approaches this table differently. We all look different. We come with different prayers in our lips. We come with different sins weighing on our hearts. We come seeking different things from Christ – brother, healer, mediator, friend. And yet, when we present ourselves before God at this table, we are one. We are one in the way that God loves and forgives us. We are one in our need for God’s grace. Even though we are seeking different things, we are all seeking. Even though we are praying different prayers, we are all praying. Even though we are traveling different paths, we are all pausing to remember Christ’s sacrifice as we break the bread and share the cup. And even though we are totally and completely unique in our journeys, God meets each and every one of us exactly where we are, uniting us as brothers and sisters in our renewal. Whether we are young or old, male or female, a small group of 4 or an assembly of 4000, God meets us at the table, taking that special, sacred moment with each of us, reminding us both who we are and whose we are: disciples of the Prince of Peace.
“Final Suppers” written by Mandla Gobledale
The Gobledales serve the Common Global Ministries Board at Churches of Christ Theological College (Seminary) in Australia. Ana & Tod Gobledale serve as chaplains and lecturers at the Churches of Christ Theological College, Churches of Christ in Australia, near Melbourne, Australia.
Mandla, 19-years-old when he wrote this poem, was an active part of the Boronia Church of Christ in Australia and before attending Occidental College in Los Angeles.
The loaf is plentiful
I give and receive
I eat the bread
It is passionately red
Bitter as betrayal
I drink the wine
Prayer is uttered
Everyone is fed
I eat the bread
Everyone is offered
I drink the wine
All are forgiven
None are abandoned
We eat the bread
We drink the wine
My thoughts …
Such simple words that carry such a profound reminder: All are called. All are welcome. All are one in God’s eyes. The issues and opinions that divide us seem to be at the forefront lately. It seems everything that we see and hear in the news is supposed to remind us how different we are from each other. You don’t think like I do. You don’t act like I do. You don’t look like I do. You don’t worship like I do. You are “the other.” You are one of “them,” not one of “us.” But if we aren’t careful, this divisiveness could consume us, isolating us from those we once called “neighbor,” “family,” and “friend.” But when we come to the table to celebrate, we are reminded that Christ came for all. Christ died for all. Christ offers forgiveness and a place in eternal glory to all. Paul writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). And as we are reminded of our common history – a history of rebellion and redemption, a history of straying and salvation – we come to this table with our brother and sisters – not in front of them, not behind them, not above them or below them … but beside them, hand in hand.