World Communion Sunday
October 1 2017
On the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya this morning, the African Church of the Holy Spirit began their worship service by marching through the streets of their village singing and dancing with instruments in order to rally more believers into their church. After the sermon, an elder of the congregation stood to pray to drive out the evil spirits.
In Basel, Switzerland the morning, the ecumenical patriarch blessed a new Orthodox Church and poured holy oil over the alter. This oil is a visible sign of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and it is also used in worship to anoint the newly baptized. After the space was blessed the community gathered to Holy Communion.
In eastern Syria this morning, the worship of the Syrian Orthodox cathedral in Hassake includes ancient liturgy and the practice of the sacraments. Many of the Christians living there can trace their roots back to the time of Jesus, and some of them even still speak Aramaic, the ancient language of that time. In the midst of violence and war,
they draw together to witness to the love of Jesus.
In Seattle, Washington, in the middle of the financial district, the Church of Mary Magdalene is holding a worship service with Holy Communion an hour from now. This congregation is comprised of former and current homeless women. This church provides social services and counseling as well as worship where all of the women are able to take part.
World Communion Sunday is one of the most significant Sundays of the church year. On the first Sunday of October Christians all around the world partake of the sacrament. The idea began at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA in 1933. And caught on. It was an effort to remind everyone all of our oneness in Christ no matter what our denomination, or color, or language, or background. “They will come from east and west and north and south, our gospel lesson proclaims, to sit at table in the kingdom of God.”
On the night He was betrayed Jesus took bread. And when he had given thanks and blessed it, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way after supper Jesus took the cup and gave it to His disciples, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Drink you all of it.”
As we all know what we call the “Last Supper” was the Jewish Passover meal, observed by Jesus and his disciples on the last night of his life.
In face of his imminent death he interpreted bread and wine as prophetic signs of his crucifixion. Like this bread, so would his body be broken. Like this wine so would his blood be poured out. In Aramaic the words translated literally are: This, my body. This, my blood. This meal portends the sacrifice of my life, wholly and freely given.
Think back to the church where you first took received communion. Mine was the Union Ridge Methodist church in Winston-Salem. We would come forward, kneel on red cushions, and receive the bread and cup from the pastor. I still like that, coming forward, kneeling, always a sign of humility and obedience.
She had sung in several Broadway plays back in the day. Now she was in an assisted living home sharing a double room with a member of my church in Tucson. She had profound Alzheimers disease, wasn’t able to speak much, wasn’t able to recognize much of anything.
I had come that day to bring communion to my member accompanied by one of our Elders. We were ushered in and visited a bit with my church member. The old lady, the former Broadway diva, sat in chair across the room and didn’t respond when I said ‘Hello, how are you?’
Then I asked my member very quietly, “Does she say anything?”
“Hardly anything,” but then she added “When they were showing the Sound of Music out in the Day Room the other day she sang along with all the songs. She knew every word.
We rearranged our chairs, so that there would be four in the circle–my Elder, my church member, the Alzheimers Diva and myself. My Elder prepared the elements. I read a scripture, prayed the prayer of institution, and passed out the elements…the four of us partook, even the Alzheimers lady. And then I said, “Let’s close our service with a song.”
And I began: Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray a drop of golden sun.
Smiles broke out on the faces of my Elder and my member, and then, in an aged, crackling voice, the Alzheimer’s Diva joined in.
Me a name I call myself
Fa a long long way to run
Sew a needle pulling thread
La a note to follow sew
Tea a drink with jam and bread
And that brings us back to doe.
The experts speculate that even when we aren’t able to speak anymore, there are still things that we remember–however dimly. We remember songs. We remember scripture. We remember family. We remember that we are loved.
And even if the experts are wrong, and we don’t remember anything, all of us here today know that God remembers us, that Christ died for us, and gave his body and blood for us.