by Jayson Whelpley
I wrote and adapted these comments from an acquaintance of mine, Jordan Rimmer. Jordan is the pastor of Westminster United Presbyterian Church in New Brighton, PA. Large portions of the script are Jordan's words exclusively.
Today, around the world, many churches are celebrating what they call "World Communion Sunday." We decided that this event would be a good time to think about, and talk more specifically about this event that some call "communion" or "the Eucharist” or - the name I grew up with - "the Lord's Supper."
Starting about the time most of you were going to bed , it began in the Pacific islands of Kiribati. Asian Christians shared the bread and the wine. Churches in China met in secret so that they would not be arrested. Christians in the Middle East, some of whom were saved only by having dreams of Jesus, met under the watchful eye of the government as they celebrated the Eucharist. In Europe, Christians gathered in churches that used to be much fuller and celebrated the Lord’s Supper. In Africa the sacrament was celebrated in great numbers by a growing number of Christians, many of whom bear scars of persecution as they Commune together.
Those celebrating today include many churches some with whom we would partner with easily and some that we'd have serious disagreements with. Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Baptists, thousands of other denominations, and even those, like us, without denominations. Christ's followers met both in public and in secret. Some met in freedom while others gathered under threat of persecution and death. Some take the sacrament today with full-on bands, some with organ music, others with simple singing, and still others in quiet so as not to be arrested. In wealthy churches and in desperate poverty the sacrament is observed. In churches, homes, huts, and in God’s creation this seal of the covenant was experienced. The bread is given to people that could overeat all day and to people who had no idea what they would eat or where they would get it today.
The one thing in common – We all come to the same table of our Lord.
In many languages, by ordained clergy, volunteer pastors, or an MC something like these words from 1 Cor 11 introduce:
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.”
The bread is many different types and colors and from many places. Some created primarily from wheat, others from rice or other kinds of grain. Some will have bread left over. Some with very small pieces that could barely give every Christian there a morsel. Still, it represented the body of Christ broken and it sustains the body of Christ around the world today.
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.”
The "wine" around the world will be different. For many it will be wine, some will have juice, some will celebrate with water that had to be carried from a dirty well some miles away. Some will use individual cups, others fancy goblets, still others pass around whatever cup was in the home where they were meeting, and some, some have plastic martini glasses. Still, it represented the blood of the covenant in their place and in their communities, just as it does in ours.
Today, for the first time, we will have the option of both juice and wine.
Communion is one of two “sacraments” that the Christian tradition we associate with recognizes - along with the baptism of believers. A sacrament is often defined as a “visible sign of an inward grace” – something we do to remember and remind ourselves of what Christ has already done and is continuing to do in our lives. This is a reminder that we share something in Jesus’ death, that his body being broken and his blood being shed really does something to, for and in us.
As I said last week, it’s a celebration - a celebration of our Lord’s death. The same way that we commemorate it on a Friday called “good,” but, like most Good Friday services it’s not something that is light-hearted, it’s not something to be laughed through, toyed with or taken lightly.
The same passage from 1 Corinthians continues:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
Surrounding bringingsacrifices to the Temple, which is the Old Covenant act that is most similar to communion, Jesus instructed his followers this way:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5:23-24 ESV
So as we the table is opened, examine yourself for a moment. If there is sin to be confessed do it quickly. 1 John 1:8-9 says:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
You don’t need to scour your soul and confess every sin you’ve committed, if we confess, he cleanses us from our unconfessed unrighteousness that we’re not even aware of.
Let us pray, and the table will be open:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we thank you for this sacrament of communion shared with Christians around the world. Pour out your Holy Spirit on those who partake—that we may be your body and the representation of your power, promises and covenant in our lives and throughout the world. Amen.
Today, as you come up, you will see there are three different types of bread. Remember as you see the plate all of those around the world with whom you share the table today.