A FEAST FOR ALL PEOPLES
A sermon preached at Lyonsville Congregational United Church of Christ on October 6, 2013 (Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time/World Communion Sunday)
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. 8Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
9It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. – Isaiah 25:6-9
– Luke 19:1-10
Today is the Sunday of the church year known as World Communion Sunday – the first Sunday in October. Communion is one of those things that just about all Christians do – sharing a ritual meal of bread and wine (we serve grape juice in this church). It is one of those rituals of the church known as a “sacrament” – a fairly ordinary thing we do (like eating) that is supposed to show something about God’s love and mercy. Or, as the great fourth century Christian teacher Augustine described it, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” In our church tradition, we have two sacraments: Communion and Baptism.
Just about every Christian shares in Communion, although different churches do it in different ways. Some do it every Sunday; others (like our church) usually do it just once each month. Some serve little round wafers; we actually use small pieces of bread. Some use real wine; we use grape juice. In some churches people come to receive the bread and wine from a Priest or Minister or Deacon; in others, people receive Communion in where they are (we do it both ways). In some churches – like ours – anyone is invited to partake (although we didn’t always do it that way); in other churches, you have to be a part of that particular church, or be approved by the Pastor in order to receive Communion.
Why do we do Communion together? The short answer is that Jesus told us to! There is a story in the gospels about how Jesus ate a meal with his disciples – it was the last meal he shared with them before he was arrested and put to death on a cross. According to that story, Jesus took bread, blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to his friends and said something like, “Take and eat. This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me.” And then, afterwards, he took a cup of wine, and again he blessed it, and said, “Drink from this. This is the new covenant in my blood. Do this to remember me.”
What, exactly, did Jesus mean when he said the bread was his body and the wine was his blood? He didn’t explain. The church has been trying to understand what he meant ever since. There are different ideas about what he meant. But we share Communion to remember Jesus – how he lived, what he taught, how he died for us, and how he was raised back to life.
So one of the things that Communion means is that it is a memorial meal. In many cultures, people will gather for a special meal to remember a loved one who has died. Maybe the closest thing here in America is when folks have a lunch after a funeral; or maybe a family reunion to remember family members who have died. We eat together in Communion to remember Jesus. In some mysterious and powerful way, he is still with us when we have Communion together.
But Communion has other meanings as well. In ancient religions, it was believed you should worship gods by offering sacrifices. People would bring some of the crops they had grown, or animals they had raised, and give them to the gods – sometimes by killing them and burning them. The Jewish people would offer sacrifices in the great temple in Jerusalem in the days when the temple stood, but they haven’t done so since the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. Some Christians believe that Jesus was like a sacrifice that our God offered to God’s own self – a sacrifice to end all sacrifices. We don’t usually talk about it that way, but some churches do.
But Communion is also a time to remember Isaiah’s vision – a vision shared by many people – of a time when all people will feast together in peace and wellness.
One of the things Jesus was known for while he was living – something that people complained about and sometimes got him in trouble – was that he would eat with ANYONE. That just wasn’t done in those days. People who thought they were good wouldn’t eat with people they thought were bad (like Zacchaeus the tax collector). Free people wouldn’t eat with slaves. Masters wouldn’t eat with servants. Jews wouldn’t eat with Gentiles.
It still isn’t done for many reasons today. Whites won’t eat with Blacks. Managers won’t eat with workers. But Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors. It upset people. He was starting to live out the vision of a time when all people might eat together.
Unfortunately, these days not even all Christians can share Communion together around one table because we have different rules about who is invited, and who can partake. But in the 1930s, some churches started to observe World Communion Sunday, when churches were encouraged to have Communion on that particular day, and remember and celebrate that Christian around the world were doing the same – eating this feast for all peoples around different tables in different places, but as one people in Christ. It was a start towards making that vision a reality. It may not come in fullness until Jesus returns in glory, but we get a little foretaste of it now. We can start to make it happen here and now.
But it doesn’t have to happen just here in church. Hopefully, we can take that vision with us beyond these walls. We can celebrate something like Communion in other settings. Bryan Sirchio is an ordained UCC Minister whose ministry has been song-writing and singing. He has often appeared at youth gatherings and church worship services – I have taken some of our Confirmation youth to see him. He wrote a song that he recorded on his album “Artist’s Hand” that I have always found to be inspiring – as an example of a way that we can live our faith outside the church – in the places where we work and go to school. I’d like to play it for you on this World Communion Sunday.
(Here is a link to a YouTube video of Bryan Sirchio performing his song “Table of Friendship & Love”)
On this World Communion Sunday, may our Communion table – and all our tables – be tables of Friendship & Love!
Robert J. von Trebra