October 6, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. ~ Lamentations 3:19-26
Each year on the first Sunday in October we are invited to participate in observing World Communion Sunday, a day that is organized around the idea of sharing a meal together. I have read that it was first celebrated at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburg in 1933—a year that’s is considered one of the darkest of the Great Depression, and a time when Nazism was on the rise in Europe. The community of Shadyside Church felt that worship which spoke about Christian unity would provide encouragement, comfort, and a sense that Christianity was still relevant, that it still has a word of hope to speak to a world that was feeling increasingly hopeless. Their plan was to celebrate the community we experience through the sharing of a common meal, the communion meal. Let us pray, O God of community and connection, remind us as we gather today that we are connected in love and in hope with our sisters and brothers across our nation and around the world. Help us feel inspired by that connection and empowered to share our food, our resources and our energy to create possibilities for justice and peace. Amen.
As we think about our connection to communities around the world, I’d invite us to think about some of the different food we have encountered in our travels. I think that’s one of the great joys of travel, that we are introduced to food and customs that we may not have encountered before. We try new tastes, new cuisines, and we savor those memories when we return. People around the world enjoy their food, if they have the privilege of having access to good, healthy food.
To be invited to sit at someone’s table is a great gift. I imagine we have all known the gift of hospitality, whether the meal be grand or simple. It is the shared experience at the table that binds us together.
In addition to some exceptional meals that I have enjoyed in my travels, I also think of the times I have spent in communities that have very few choices in terms of what they eat. That remains an important memory for me. When I have been in some very impoverished communities, I have been made aware of the privileges I have perhaps taken too often for granted: that we can eat something different at each meal, that we don’t worry about where our next meal is coming from, that we have food in the cupboards and in the fridge. In my stays in Central America, I basically ate the same beans, rice and tortillas or some version of that morning, noon and night, and I was grateful. And, it did not escape my notice that the family would often give me a bigger portion or a better portion with more meat, for example. I was humbled by that kindness and generosity of sharing. And too we know that there are those who live in extreme poverty who don’t even have those basic provisions, who go hungry every day. And so we hold all of this in our hearts this day. We hold gratitude for the blessings we have received and we hold the unease in knowing that others are hungry even as we gather.
Rev. Patricia Raube, a Pastor at a Presbyterian Church in New York, writes… “There’s a hunger beyond food that makes eating together a kind of miracle. When we eat together, we bring together the fragments of our individual lives and experience communion. We move from being separate, to being one.” In today’s reading from Jeremiah’s Lamentations, we hear the echoes of fear, insecurity, and the kind of persecution that was on the rise in 1933—and sadly is on the rise again today. The writer calls out: “The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it, and is bowed down within me” (Lam. 3:19-20). And yet, we are then reminded of the hope or our Creator…
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” ~Lam. 3:21-24
“The Lord is my portion. When we are in the depths of fear or despair, everything tastes bitter… sawdust in our mouths. But when we rest in the reassurance of the God of abundance being our portion—life is filled with flavor again. The simplest things fill us; we know we are cared for. We know encouragement on dark days; we know the solace of the embrace of God,” writes Rev. Raube.
We know that we have a special responsibility as people of faith that extends beyond just reassuring ourselves or counting our own blessings. It goes to caring for others. Throughout our lives, we have a responsibility to ask, how can we serve others? The answer to that question changes often and at different times. We serve others in countless ways. As Christians, welcoming all to the table is the most important; it’s the one Jesus reminded us about before he died. Jesus reminded those who followed him that we are all God’s servants. There’s a deep spiritual hunger, a hunger that is deeper than food that’s expressed in a common meal, and that’s why feeding is always a kind of miracle.
“When we eat together, we bring together the fragments of our individual lives and experience communion. We move from being separate, to being one, and today, we recognize a truth we often take for granted: The table, and the fragments that become one, extend around the world. The world is too small for us to imagine these are not our neighbors.” (Raube) On this World Communion Sunday, we gather around our own table, remembering Jesus’ call to love our neighbors, and to serve them. Our table today reminds us or our great connection to all of our beloved sisters and brothers throughout the world. And for this, we give thanks. Amen.