Let us pause for a moment in the spirit of prayer:
Gracious God, we pray that your spirit of love
will flow through each one of us
as we gather to worship this day
and as we walk together on this journey of faith.
In Jesus’ name we pray.
Today is Worldwide Communion Sunday. On this day – more than any other Sunday in the year – I am deeply aware that Christians around the world are gathering and sharing in thesacrament of communion. Communion, like baptism, is a ritual that connects us as Christians no matter what our language, culture, age or gender. In the simple act of sharing bread and the fruit of the vine, we are united as the body of Christ in the world. And, for me, that is profoundly important to remember and celebrate.
This week, as I’ve been thinking about our communion with Christians around the world, I’ve also been remembering a time during my theological studies when I travelled to Guatemala as part of a Global Perspectives educational experience. The people I met in Guatemala, and the stories they shared with me, have enriched my understanding and appreciation of the strength and unity of Christian community and the many ways that faith can strengthen and give courage to people in times of adversity.
During my time in Guatemala, I stayed with an indigenous family in a small town called Chimaltenango. The father of the family was Alejandro Atz who told me the story of how he and his family came to live in Chimaltenango during the worst years of military repression in the early 1980’s. Alejandro’s family was originally from St. Martin; a small village in the Guatemalan highlands. After a year of surprise attacks and killings by the Guatemalan army, members of their community decided to flee and find someplace to hide their families. With members of four other villages who had been similarly terrorized they left under the cover of secrecy. The day they left was a national holiday and thinking the army might be distracted by celebrations they fled into the forest without much more than the clothes on their backs and a small amount of food to eat. Corn is the staple food for indigenous Guatemalans. Alejandro’s family had one bag of corn which one of his daughters carried to sustain them on their journey. One day when they were crossing a river, Alejandro’s daughter slipped and fell and the corn was lost. Their survival on the run was far from guaranteed and the loss of their food source was a devastating blow. That they did survive was due to the generosity of other impoverished families who shared their meager rations with them. Working together, and sharing what little they had with each other, was the way these people not only survived but were strengthened and united as a community based on Christian ideals.
I remembered this story as I was thinking about the Israelites as they fled their oppressors in Egypt and the uncertainty the people felt as they journeyed with Moses through the wilderness. After initial uncertainty, and complaining, the Israelites survived by working together and sharing resources with each other. They learned to set aside their fears and trust in God to guide and sustain them on their journey together. They thanked God for the manna they collected each day that was for them a staple food source. They connected this food that appeared on the ground each morning with God’s provision and so they referred to it as bread from heaven.
The stories of these wilderness wanderings were passed down through the generations and remembered by Jesus and his first followers. When a multitude of people were fed with bread and fish they wondered if this was a sign that Jesus was the messiah that the prophets foretold. They remembered their ancestors who had received manna in the wilderness and wondered if they would also receive bread for their journey. Jesus said to them, “… the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:33) The people were still thinking about bread that would address their physical hunger until Jesus made it clear that he was sent by God to give life to the world through the power of healing love. He said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”(John 6:35)
What Jesus is speaking about is more than mere survival of the body. He is speaking about the fullness of life that God intends for all people. He is speaking about the powerful love that binds communities together and offers strength of unity and purpose. Jesus often spoke about God’s commonwealth where all are welcome and none are turned away. Jesus shared food for the body and for the soul with anyone who would receive God’s blessing.
Jesus’ followers sought to emulate his life and continued to enact the rituals of the communities that gathered in his name. They gave thanks and praise to God, as Jesus did, and they shared in a ritual of remembrance for his life and in recognition and celebration for his continuing spiritual presence and guidance. In the United Church we call this ritual communion. Whenever we share communion we remember that we are part of the Body of Christ past and present. And, we continue to share the stories and rituals of our faith tradition that are bread for our journey and a legacy for future generations.
And so, as we celebrate Worldwide Communion, we remember that we are part of a story that is much bigger than ourselves. Our Christian story transcends any boundaries of language, culture or race. Whenever we gather around the table of Jesus Christ, we do so in communion with all members of the worldwide Christian community.
Together, we remember that Jesus welcomed all to join him at God’s abundant table. We remember that he embodied God’s love for the world and that he dedicated his life to serving others and to advocating for those whose voices were not heard or valued. In remembering we also dedicate our lives as Christ’s disciples, seeking to follow his ways and live God’s way of love and justice.
And so, on this day we gather, as Christians for 2,000 years have gathered, to share our story of faith, to remember and give thanks for the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and to be renewed and strengthened in our common vision. The sacrament of communion connects us to our past, embraces us in our present, and gives us hope for the future.
With this in mind, I’ll close with words of blessing from Seasons of the Spirit:
We live ordinary lives. We go about our routines each day.
And sometimes we gather, as Christian community,
to celebrate our common faith. We sing. We tell stories. We pray.
We remember Christ – how he calls us, feeds us, and sends us out to care for the world – and in all of this we see the face of
Christ in each other, and in the strength of this community,
and in the ministries we go forth to enact in his name.
(Seasons of the Spirit, Lent/Easter 2004, pg. 95)