Today is “World Communion Sunday.”
Honestly, I don’t always recognize it. Many years it comes and goes on the church calendar without a word about it from my pulpit. But this year – this year, it felt like something worth mentioning.
If you haven’t heard of it before (probably my fault, if I’m your pastor…) it’s a world-wide celebration of communion in both senses of that word. In the sacramental sense, it’s a day when we take communion – the Lord’s Supper – thinking of all the other Christians who will do the same. But it’s also a day of “communion” as in “what we hold in common.” There are differences between all the different kinds of churches; theological, doctrinal, and practical reasons we’ve split into separate denominations. But even as we’re separate, we hold one most amazing thing in common: Jesus. That means that what we have in common is way more significant than what we have in difference.
That’s World Communion Sunday in a nutshell: a day started by our Presbyterian friends back in 1936 and adopted by the Federal Council of Churches in 1940, a day to celebrate communion and be reminded of our greater unity.
Sigh. Doesn’t that sound lovely? Couldn’t we use more of words like “communion” and “common” and “unity”?
I bet you can see why this year might be a good year to observe World Communion Sunday.
Although let’s be real – every year we need a dose of “communion” and “unity.” I’ve wondered this week, why don’t I observe World Communion Sunday every year? Maybe it’s because it can feel purely symbolic – me, a Methodist pastor, saying words about being in communion with all the other denominations… while still taking communion in one sanctuary as one congregation that’s a part of one denomination. That can make it feel like nothing more than lip service, talking about being united but still modelling being separate. It’d be nice to get other pastors from other denominations in to celebrate with us… but they’re all busy on Sunday mornings.
But you know – COVID does have a few advantages.
So this year, thanks to the fact that our worship service is all video-based anyway, you get to hear from more than just a Methodist. On this World Communion Sunday I’m happy to share with you some insights on communion from a Lutheran, a Baptist, an Episcopalian, and a Presbyterian. As you listen to them, I want you to listen for what we do different – and also, what is similar.
Here are some of the things I noticed:
We do have some differences. We celebrate communion at different rhythms: every Sunday, once a month, or once a quarter. We might do it by intinction – dipping the bread in the juice – or by little cups. We can be served in the pews or served at the altar. For Baptists, it’s an “ordinance,” and for the others, it’s a “Sacrament.” We do not observe communion in exactly the same way.
But man, there’s a lot of common ground. Pastors Rosemary, Jeff, Pattie, and Blake talked about things that I also believe about communion.
Pastor Rosemary talked about how Lutherans only baptize once, but communion is something they can (and should) do very often. We Methodists are the same; John Wesley, the guy who started the Methodist movement, said we should take communion as often as we can. And I love Rosemary’s description of why: it’s like experiencing God’s “I love you” to us, and we need to hear that as often as we can.
I like how Pastor Jeff called it a “remembrance meal.” You know how before we take communion, we always remember part of the story of God and Jesus? Communion helps us remember the key parts of God’s story.
Pastor Pattie said that communion is “essential to who we are.” YES. Communion is essential because it “feeds” us. She also mentioned that it becomes for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ “in a way that we cannot understand.” That’s common ground, too – we Methodists don’t believe the bread and juice literally become the body and blood of Christ… but we do believe that in some holy and mysterious way, it is real, that through the break and juice we are experiencing the body broken and blood shed for us.
And I love how Pastor Blake described communion as “three dimensional” – past, present, and future. Remembering what Christ did for us, experiencing what Christ is doing in us, and looking forward to what we believe Christ will do for us one day. That’s an important part for us Methodists, too; every time we take communion, we repeat the “holy mystery” that’s at the center of our faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.”
So yes – there’s differences between us Presbyterians and Baptists and Episcopalians and Lutherans and Methodists. But wow, is there a lot of common ground.
And let me tell you about one more – something that didn’t come up in the video.
Every single one of these pastors – Blake, Jeff, Pattie, and Rosemary – after the video was done recording said something like, “I could say SO much more!” And I’d put myself in that same boat. All of us agree that this meal is truly a holy mystery, beautifully complex, a living experience of our living God that can’t be adequately summed up in 2 minutes or 15 minutes or even 10 hours. In that way, the best way to understand it… is to take it, and to see for yourself.
Which, of course, is exactly what we’re going to do today.
How is it possible that we might experience the risen Lord through bread and juice? How does the Holy Spirit come to each of us where we are today? How could we be made to be one body through this meal, not just as Methodists but as all Christians across time and space?
You just had five pastors spend a couple minutes trying to tell you. Now – taste and see for yourself.