World Communion Sunday
TEXTS: John 17:1-26 and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
… the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 11:23-25)
On October 2, 2022, with our fellow Christians around the world, this is what we will be doing. On World Communion Sunday, we will remember Jesus. And we will remember that his prayer for us—as we heard in our gospel passage—was that we might be one.
“I ask … that they may all be one,” he said. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20a, 21-23)
The Service of the Table is meant to be a symbol of our unity—not only our unity as members of a particular congregation, or as members of a specific denomination—but of our unity as members of Christ’s Body, the Church … the universal church … “the church catholic” (small “c” catholic, as is often said).
On the first Sunday in October, in almost every nation, on every continent (except, perhaps, Antarctica), Christians will gather to share this holy meal. In some places it will be called “The Eucharist.” In others it will be called “Communion.” In others it will be called “The Love Feast.” In still others it will be called, “The Table of the Lord” or “The Lord’s Supper.”
And as varied as the titles are for what we will do, so also will be the ways in which our brothers and sisters come to the table, and the kinds of food and drink offered, and the understanding that people will have of what they are doing.
Some will come forward to receive unleavened bread in the form of a wafer into the palms of their hands. They may or may not then sip from the cup, which may contain wine, or unfermented grape juice—or even some other beverage, in those places where grapes are unknown.
Others will tear a piece of bread from a broken loaf—and then dip it into the common cup.
Still others will remain seated in their chairs—or in their pews—and they will serve one another from individual cups and trays of pre-sliced bread.
Some may do these things as a part of a full meal, seated at a table in a sanctuary of God’s presence … or in a church hall … or a home … or a school building. Others will sit in a circle in a hut, or in a clearing in the midst of a jungle or forest, or in the middle of a place of sand and rock.
Some will regard the bread and the wine as being literally the body and blood of Christ. Others will consider the entire exercise to be an important “memorial” and see Jesus as being spiritually present in a special way—but not physically present in the food and drink.
Yes, there will be differences—some of them quite profound—in the way Christians around the world view this sacred meal.
Some will think that their way of doing what they are doing is the only correct way to do it.
Some traditions will welcome only those adults who have made a public profession of their faith to the table, while others will welcome very young children—even babies—to the table.
Some will insist that each participant must be baptized, or belong to the denomination in which the sacrament is being observed; others will have a table which is open to all.
There will be a tremendous variety of practices and understandings as the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. However, over and above all the differences of opinion and practice, one thing will stand out; and that is … that all of us will consider that what we are doing is vitally important—so important that we might even risk argument with one another about what it means.
So what do we make of that? What is our communion with one another when we have such a wide variety of practices and understandings? What is our communion with one another—and with God?
Another way of putting this is to ask: Where, given our differences, is our “community”?
Someone—I wish I could remember who—once said that what makes a community is not shared values or common understanding so much as the fact that members of a community are engaged in the same argument.
“Members of a community are engaged in the same argument.” Think about that for a minute.
What helps to define us as a community—not only the community that we have in a local church, but also the community that we share with our fellow believers around the world—is the fact that we are all engaged in the same argument. We all see ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ. We are all engaged in working out the best way to order our lives as his people in response to his calling.
What makes us a “worldwide” community is not that we agree with one another in everything, but that we believe that the discussions we have—even the disagreements we have—are of significance.
The fact is, Christians have never been in complete agreement about everything.
In his letter to the Church at Rome, the apostle Paul tried to deal with some issues that were causing friction amongst believers in that first-century community. It had to do with holy days and dietary restrictions.
Some of the Roman Christians had scruples about eating meat, and drinking wine, and not observing the Sabbath. Paul discusses these differences of opinion in chapter 14, where he writes this:
Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. (Rom. 14:5-9)
The important thing that Paul is telling us here is that each of us should be fully convinced in our own minds about what is important. We should do all that we do—or don’t do—with thanks to God and in the realization that Christ is Lord of all who serve him.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently evil about the fact that Christians disagree—not if we treat one another with respect. Yes, we continue to have our differences of opinion about what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is not good, what is true and what is not true. But you know, our common argument helps to define us. It defines us as the people of God, as brothers and sisters of one another—as members of one family.
Think about your own families for a minute, and how they function. Is there perfect agreement among you?
Are there not members who believe—sometimes quite passionately—that the family should do this or that thing, while others in the family hold forth for something else?
And yet—while there are these kinds of disputes—if we are really a family, do we not sit down together at meal-time and share that which has been prepared for us? And as our tastes and inclinations lead us, some of us will take more from a particular dish, while others will prefer a different one. Isn’t that true? I am the only one in my family who loves turnips!
If we have any sense at all of being a family, we gather on special occasions, don’t we? We come together around the table that has been set, and we give thanks to God for providing the food that we eat—even if our diets are slightly different.
That’s what families do, isn’t it? We bless one another and love one another—without demanding that everyone else do exactly what we do, or think exactly the way we think. We don’t all have to love turnips …
The church around the world today is one family. We are the family of God—defined by our common desire to follow Christ Jesus, who is both our brother and our Lord.
We are the ones who trust in Jesus—who strive to follow him faithfully and to keep the special law he gave us: the commandment that we love one another as he has loved us (John 15:12).
Where is our community with God and one another? It is in all the things we share that are of God and are fully agreed about—and also in all those things about which we agree to disagree. It is in Christ Jesus, whom we seek to follow in varied scheme and practice; and it is in God our Father, who sent Jesus to open the way to life for us; and it is in the Holy Spirit, who joins us together in a mystic communion—one that is not limited by time or space.
This comes to us as a gift from God: the God who wills that we love him with our whole heart, mind, strength and soul, and that we love one another as we love ourselves; the God who empowers us to do exactly that when we turn to him, and trust in him, and seek to do his will.
God is with us. Christ is with us. And, by the power of the Spirit, we are made one with all our brothers and sisters who call upon his name. What a magnificent blessing! Thanks be to God for it.