Where are the symbols of unity in our world? Where are the leaders and movements that bring us together rather than dividing us over issues of politics, religion, race, class, and sexual preference?
I am no longer a Christian in any traditional sense. However, in my 32 years as a pastor, an event called World Communion Sunday was always special to me. It resonated because I had served this agape meal in such far-flung places as India, Africa, Mexico, hospitals, homes, prisons, even open fields under the Milky Way. It was an annual chance to celebrate unity, at least for one segment of humanity. To Christians, the communion table represents the biggest table on our planet, still expanding in all directions of the compass. It symbolizes an eschatological feast at the end of time, an image Jesus borrowed from the faith of his people: “They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29)
Despite its sentiments, World Communion Sunday can also be seen as sentimental window dressing. Any student of religion knows the divisive interpretations of this sacrament. Consubstantiation, transubstantiation, symbolic presence – theologies as fractured as the denominational tribes that populate our globe. For critics of religion, communion is a ritual with barbaric icons – eating flesh and drinking blood, a glorification of sacrifice. Others see it as a throwback to mystery cults like Mithraism.
Still, for a moment, isn’t it powerful to envision a feast of love? A banquet of reconciliation in a world torn by civil wars, racial unrest, mass shootings! It’s an undying dream of unity, where the lion lies down with the lamb, and all God’s children gather from the corners of the earth to sup in divine fellowship.
In my years of pastoring, I described it in a practical way, trying to have my humble influence on the landscapes of faith around me.
There will forever be differences among us. Issues of conscience, seemingly intractable in daily life, divide us along countless fault lines. What can we do? Seek a community of faith that is not just “like-minded.” Find one that stretches your love muscles, challenging you to practice unity in the midst of our diversity!
What is the point of a communion table that offers its gifts only to homogeneous groups of cookie-cutter disciples? How is this a healing force in our fractured world? If we see the sacrificial love of Christ as a model for loving others as much (or even more!) than ourselves, communion can transform its adherents. In the Christian New Testament, the book of Ephesians says that Christ’s willingness to die rather than retaliate can, by example, break down dividing walls of hostility. It has the potential to dissolve the eye-for-an-eye retaliation so prevalent in human society.
Where do you experience diversity in your life? Choosing to love at those moments can work miracles. As we look around us and see those that differ from us, the truth of The Lord’s Prayer becomes incarnational. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on EARTH as it is in heaven.
Today, I ask you to envision this feast of the “now and yet to come.” I will always recall thses words I spoke countless times in SO many places, for as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we show forth to the world the reconciling love of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ.