A MINISTERS MUSINGS ………………………………………… ON HOLY COMMUNION
October 7th is Thanksgiving Sunday and it is also World Wide Communion Sunday. World Wide Communion Sunday is a celebration observed by a multitude of Christian denominations, taking place on the first Sunday of October. It is intended to promote Christian unity and ecumenical cooperation, underscoring how each congregation is interconnected to one another. The tradition was begun in 1933 by Hugh Thomson Kerr who ministered to the congregation of Shady-side Presbyterian Church, located in Baltimore. Don’t you just love the name of that church – Shady-side? Makes we wonder what that congregation is up to!
The idea caught on and has been growing ever since. As we partake of Holy Communion today, it uplifts me to know that all around the globe, someone, somewhere in the Christian church, is celebrating communion – in a cathedral, in a white clapboard church, in a small hut in the midst of Africa.
Perhaps you might like to know a wee bit about Holy Communion as it is offered in the United Church generally and at Central United Church particularly. The first important thing to know is that we practice hospitality at our Communion Table. No one, not even our small children, are prohibited from receiving Communion. Our communion table is open to all.
Holy Communion is a sacrament of the church, an external ritual that reminds us of our internal connection to God’s unconditional grace and love. It is also a reminder for us of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus commanded us to participate in Communion in remembrance of his great love for us, as expressed in the broken bread and the poured cup of wine.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the priest consecrates the bread and wine, so that these earthly elements actually become the body and blood of Jesus through a process called “transubstantiation.” For we Protestants, however, the bread and wine always remain just that – bread and wine. They serve as symbols. And, in deference to those in our midst who are recovering alcoholics, only grape juice is served. And, in deference to those in our midst who are celiac, we always serve a glutton free option for the bread. These are ways that we clearly state our “love for our neighbour.”
Now, how about that “interconnected” thing? That part isn’t going so well, is it? There are great chasms among different church denominations. How to you feel, for example, when a Jehovah’s Witness comes to your door? Or what about those Mormons? Or why is it that Protestants are not allowed to share communion with Roman Catholics? (the Catholic church will not allow it because we who belong to the Protestant Reformed Tradition are considered to be “fallen brethren,” having broken away from the Catholic church). And in some denominations, you are not allowed to partake of communion unless you are a card-carrying member of that particular church.
Disturbing, isn’t it? The very ritual that Jesus instituted to create unity among his followers actually causes a deep disunity. There are some days that God must shake her head from side to side.