In worship this Sunday, we will gather around the table alongside Christians of all kinds, all nations, all expressions. We call it World Communion Sunday, a day when we orient ourselves to the oneness we share in Christ, a oneness made known intimately around Christ’s table of love.
The history of World Communion Sunday tells its story well. Some 80 years ago, Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr, pastor of Shadyside Prebyterian Church in Pittsburgh, had an idea to gather various local churches together for a time of worship where their shared unity in Christ found particularly in the practice of communion was the focus. The first such gathering took place in 1933, a time in which Adolf Hitler was rising to consolidated power in Nazi Germany. With each passing day, the inevitability of a second great war settled in. The effects of the Great Depression still held the world in a firm grip of despair. The collective human spirit, it seemed, was as fractured and frayed as ever before.
Into such a climate, what began as one Presbyterian Church in the urban northeast with a vision became a movement that spread from church to church. Dr. Kerr’s son, Donald, said about the movement, “The concept spread very slowly at the start. . . . It was during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold, because we were trying to hold the world together. [The day] symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense. It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” By 1940, it had spread such that the Federal Council of Churches approved the day of celebration. That year, it stood as a vision of oneness even as the war had begun in Europe. And now? Some 38 different Christian traditions mark the day in their own way, filled with their own languages and customs and quirks and values. For that’s what happens when the incarnate Christ is made known to particular communities and particular times!
Last night as we began our month-long exploration of how we can be people of bold love and boundless compassion in the midst of this divided age in which we live, I couldn’t help but think of the gift it is to observe World Communion. For when disagreement separates even the deepest relationships, when Washington’s machinations send us all into a frenzy, when we feel like hope has gone into hiding, when we wonder what tomorrow might hold, might we hold fast to the promise of Ephesians 4, saying “you are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.” May it be so — even today, even with us!
Together in the work of Love,