October 7, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert
As we gather today, we join churches around the world as we celebrate what has come to be called World Communion Sunday. We gather to strengthen the ties within our community and to be reminded of the bonds we share with our neighbors around the world who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is also a time to remember our common humanity as children of God, wherever we come from, however we worship, we are linked together as brothers and sisters to one another in a mutual web of interdependence. Let us pray, Loving God, we gather this morning to be strengthened in faith and in love. Be with us as we are reminded of the ties that bind us with friends and neighbors, sisters and brothers around the world. Amen.
World Communion Sunday began in 1936 in the Presbyterian Church and was adopted by the Federal Council of Churches, which was the predecessor of what we know call the National or World Council of Churches in 1940. Since then, the celebration has grown into an international ecumenical celebration of Christian unity.
The key word for World Communion Sunday is communion, or unity. It is a day when we mark the almost universal Christian practice of breaking bread with one another and remembering both the night of Jesus’ betrayal—when Jesus instituted what we now call the Lord’s Supper as a lasting remembrance—and of Jesus’ sacrifice. So accounts of the last supper feature prominently, by virtue of World Communion Sunday being a celebration of the Eucharist. But there is a flavor of the Christian celebration of Pentecost as well, when people from around the Mediterranean world came together in mutual understanding and inspiration, by the power of the Holy Spirit. World Communion Sunday is a time for remembering that around the globe—in different languages, with different traditions and customs, and in various forms of liturgy—the Lord’s Supper is celebrated throughout Christendom. At its best, therefore, World Communion Sunday serves two purposes: it is both a joyous and meaningful partaking in Jesus’ sacred meal with his friends and an exposure to different Christian traditions from around the world.
If you have studied the history of Christianity, I am sure you know that there have been many points of division around beliefs, worship, theology and philosophy. This celebration was meant to remind us more about the areas of connection and not of division. Union Church is a perfect example of this, because so many of our members were raised in the various denominations of Christianity or in no tradition, and yet we have found our way to one another to worship, to offer support, and to care for one another. In so doing, we also celebrate our openness to and respect for the teachings of various other religious and spiritual traditions around the globe. As you know, this is a special community in who we are and in what we believe.
Fr. Henry Nouwen, in his book, Reaching Out, challenges us to consider that “what is most universal is most personal and indeed nothing human is strange to us”. He likely drew that wonderful phrase from the writings of psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1950’s. For those of us who have had the privilege of traveling or meeting people who have traveled from other parts of the world, it doesn’t take us long to understand the meaning of that expression. While there may be many differences of culture and food and traditions, we share essential values of family, community, love and a deep desire for freedom, respect and dignity.
We also share common experiences of loss and grief, loneliness and suffering. John Schneider writes, “It is paradoxical that our vulnerability, our deepest innermost thoughts and feelings, those which we fear are signs of our craziness, aloneness, utter alienation from the world around us can actually be common and shared.” It is often the case that the experiences of life help us come to a great understanding about life’s deepest meaning and we understand what connects us to one another in the most important ways; our shared humanity is a great teacher ultimately.
Yet another form of universality, and to my mind the most authentic form of it, is the result of committing oneself wholeheartedly to a particular tradition while honoring the good will and truth within other approaches. Eventually, if one goes far enough on one of the real paths to God, then we may one arrive at a truly universal perspective, one that includes all of humanity. (The Threshold Society)
And so today, as we prepare to break bread and share the cup together, let us pray for our brothers and sisters around the world. Let us pray that as a community of faith, as a nation, and as a world, we may transcend the places of difference and move forward to a world where mutual respect and love is modeled each day by all.