This Sunday, people all over the world will gather around tables for a sacred celebration. Some will eat wafers. Some will hold little pre-cut squares of bread between their fingers. Some will tear their portion from a common loaf. Some will sip wine while others raise little glasses of juice. Some will dip their bread into the cup. There will be different liturgies, different prayers, and different languages. This meal will take place in gothic cathedrals, clapboard sanctuaries, bamboo huts, under shade trees, and in rented movie theaters. Clergy will stand before congregations in robes, dashikis, dhotis, as well as jeans and t-shirts. And yet, despite our many differences, we will gather to proclaim our unity in Christ Jesus.
Sunday, October 3, will mark the 86th anniversary of World Communion Sunday, a celebration that traces its origins to 1933, and the Rev. Hugh Thompson Kerr, pastor of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In a time decisively marked by fear – fear over economics (they were in the midst of the Great Depression), fear over politics (Roosevelt had just been inaugurated and the New Deal begun), and fear over the general direction of our nation, Rev. Kerr felt the need to bear witness to God’s intention for unity in the church. The Presbyterian Church adopted this as a national observance in 1936, and the National Council of Churches followed suit in 1940. Thus, World Communion Sunday took shape.
Despite all these differences, churches around the world will be unified this Sunday as they recall the words of Jesus: “This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me.”
We gather to remember. We live in a world that moves so fast, jumping from headline to headline, sound byte to sound byte. It’s a world a world bombarded by words – from music, billboards, books, and magazines to Facebook updates, Tweets, and blog posts. Words populate almost every moment of our loves – on television, on radio waves, carried over cell signals and satellite feeds – information buzzing around the atmosphere like the very air that we breathe. In such dizzying conditions, we need to remember a different story.
We need remember that we are citizens of a different kingdom. We need to remember that this is a kingdom where the poor receive a king’s inheritance, where mourners are comforted, the hungry and thirsty are filled, the merciful receive mercy, and the persecuted are blessed.
We need to be reminded that we are citizens of a kingdom that doesn’t fight with the same weapons as the kingdoms of this world. That does not return violence for violence. That does not seek after positions of power and influence. That does not measure success through the quantity of our possessions or the balance of our bank accounts. We need to be reminded because it is so easy to forget. “Do this to remember me.”
Could it be, however, that Jesus’ call to remember has a deeper meaning? The spiritual writer and educator, Parker Palmer, has observed the following about remembering: “To ‘remember’ means literally to re-member the body, to bring the separated parts of the community of truth back together, to reunite the whole. The opposite of re-member is not forget, but dis-member.”
“Do this to re-member me.”
It’s no accident that the apostle Paul uses the metaphor of the body to describe the unity and interconnectedness of the church of Jesus Christ.
“Do this to re-member me.”
In a world that often feels so fractured by violence, disjointed by illness, broken by prejudice, deformed by oppression, fragmented by the ever-growing gulf between the “haves” and “have nots,” and polarized by divisive ideology, we are desperate to re-member. In the family that bears the name of Christ, but can’t help but feel the dismemberment created by differences in style, theology, methods, and practice, we are desperate to re-member. In a community where there are church buildings on every street corner – many of which are struggling to keep the doors open and the lights on – we are desperate to re-member.
Too often, we fall into a fortress mentality in our churches, remnants huddling together inside our walls as a sanctuary against the world. Too often, churches fall into the trap of competing with one another for members, forgetting that we cannot build this kingdom alone…cannot reach this world alone…cannot truly fully follow the gospel call without one another. Too often, we settle for dismemberment because “that’s just the way it is.”
In such a world, we desperately need to re-member. We desperately need to acknowledge that we are stronger together than we are individually. Our world desperately needs us to remember a better story and to model a different reality.
But, more than anything, we need to remember that we are family – brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to remember that we are the body of Christ – his hands and feet to our world. We need to remember that we are ambassadors for a different kingdom and that our ultimate loyalty will always be to that citizenship above all others.
“Do this to remember me.”