One of my favorite stories to tell, which many of you have already heard from me tell, is the story of my stuffed animals. When I was a young kid playing at home I would gather my stuffed animals into pew like rows to play church with them. I would get sandwich bread from the kitchen and cut it into small little squares and put it on a plate and then I would pour grape juice into a cup and place these communion elements on a table in front of my stuffed animals to play church with them. I would preach to my stuffed animal congregation and I would receive their offering, they were quite a generous congregation. And then I would lead them in a prayer and begin the Lord’s Supper. Raising the bread and cup to my captive congregation of creatures I would say “This is the body and blood of Christ for you.” And then because they couldn’t eat I would have a little snack of bread and grape juice on their behalf.
Today is World Communion Sunday it’s a day when Christians around the world will gather around the communion table and feast together. God in Christ Jesus invites us to this communion table to find grace in our lives, to find hope, to find a place of belonging, to experience mercy.
The table is a place without boarders; where the traveler finds a home.
But we aren’t stay at the table, just like we don’t live in the sanctuary of the church everyday. We come back each week to be reminded of the resurrection hope of God’ grace in our lives. We come back each week to worship and pray and then we are sent forth from here with the substance in our bellies and souls to practice forgiveness, to practice grace, and live and love like Jesus.
Imperfect as we are; we are the ones that God calls.
When God works in this world, God works through ordinary people like us.
At God’s table we remember our identity of beloved and we are sent forth to remind the world of their belovedness.
Methodist minister, Reverend Jan Richardson, says that “World Communion Sunday reminds us that Christ calls us to a table where the welcome is wide. He offers us a space with bread and wine in abundance to give solace to our sorrow and to stir our joy. Even as Christ invites us to this table, he does not mean for us to linger here forever. He gives us sustenance in order to send us forth, carrying a space of welcome within us, called to offer it to those we meet: one more, and one more, and one more”
In the Gospel passage today we have a glimpse of Jesus personal spiritual life. The entirety of this chapter is a prayer from Jesus and we have the privilege of listening in to what his hopes and prayers are. Let me put this passage in context. The chapter is sandwiched between Jesus preparing his disciple of his departure in chapter 16 and his actual betrayal into the hands of the state who will kill him in chapter 18. Leading up to our passage today Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit in the absence of his presence. He reminds them that there will sorrow and difficulty, but peace and joy will follow. He then turns to God the Creator and prays this prayer that we find here in John 17. This is not an instructional passage, this is not an instructional passage “A 5 steps on how to be Christian” but it is the spirituality of Jesus. We see a glimpse of the heart of Christ. It is his longing that the way the Father and him are one, it is his desire that the disciples would be one. Unified.
He looks to heaven and says in verse 11 “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” And then yet again he prays for our unity a little later in verse 21 “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
10 different times Jesus uses the word “one” in this chapter as he prays to the Creator for unity.
In a world where sharply polarized opinions divide us and lead us to violence, this prayer is one we should listen to. I love it, it is the heart of Jesus, that we would be one as the Creator and the Son are one. But if I am honest this prayer of Jesus not only presents an idealized vision for me and but it also really gets under my nerves. Praying for the unity of the disciples sounds great in theory. Unity with the people that are fun and smart sounds amazing, but unity with people we disagree with warrants the question, but how?
What about the ones we don’t like or what about the ones who claim the name of Christ but whose belief leads them to act so much differently than we would hope. The ones who vote, act, and speak so differently that ourselves. This prayer that Jesus prays in John 17 is pretty radical. The vision of unity is not like a heavenly version of God’s Greek fraternity or sorority, in some sense that would be easier. We could all wear awesome Greek hoodies that said the “The Jesus Team.” But this is a prayer of unity that is deeper than that. This is a prayer that we would all be as united as the God’s own being. In a world that has difficulty seeing each other with dignity, this prayer feels daunting even.
Unity, in theory sounds amazing. Unity in practice can be annoying.
This is why the communion table is so profound. It’s here we feast together and we learn how to love each other. It’s here where our suffering, our divisions, our laziness, our over functioning, everything belongs, and we experience the love of Christ that meets us where we are. It is at this table, that enemy and friend come seeking the same mercy from the same Creator. It is at the feast of God’s dinner table we pray for our enemy, feed the hungry, forgive when we have been wronged, and mercy is extended to all of us. Even us.
Episcopal author, Sara Miles says, “It doesn’t promise to solve or erase suffering but to transform it, pledging that by loving one another, even through pain, we will find more life. And it insists that by opening ourselves to strangers, the despised or frightening or unintelligible other, we will see more and more of the holy, since, without exception, all people are one body: God’s.”
We are one, we are God’s body. And by God’s grace when we feast together today we join with people in France, and people in Kenya, and people in Australia, and people in Brazil, and Morocco, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Argentina, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and even New Jersey — and all over the world, we join together as God’s body. At the table Christ is the head and we learn how to forgive, we learn how to be forgiven, we learn how to trust, and we find grace for our daily lives that God has not forgotten us and will not give up on us.
At the Table
At the table, our God welcomes us to come, imperfect as we are, and meet Jesus lovingly welcoming us to feast upon bread and wine. At the table sinners, saints, wandering pilgrims, hope-filled believers, and resistant doubters are welcome to come and feast in the presence of the love of God in Christ. At the table of God we share bread with Syrian Refugees and say welcome home. At the table we pass the cup of life to people in Oregon and the 293 other places this year that know the ache of mass gun violence and we say come and find hope and healing. At the table we find room for protestors and those being protested and we over hear Jesus praying “Father that they would be one as we are one.” At the table young girls from Nigeria who were kidnapped are welcomed next to Jesus and find the food to begin to heal. At the table our neighbors in New York City who call the concrete their pillow find sanctuary where hungry bellies and lonely hearts are filled.
At the table you and I are welcome, yes even you, yes even me, this is the table where there is room for all.
Christ is big enough to hold all of us.
The table of our Lord is a place of healing, of welcome, and it is where the presence of Christ manifests in ordinary everyday things like grains and grapes.
And perhaps that’s one of the most surprising things about the communion table that is just grain and grapes. They are everyday elements from the fields and from the fruits that Christ blesses. Our daily lives become the vehicle in which the unity of God’s body is actualized. It’s just in this moment we are awake enough to recognize the blessings God orchestrates through daily mundane things such as food and the fellowship of our company together.
In your bulletin there is a poem by Methodist Minister, Pastor Jan Richardson. I invite you to pull it out and I’ve invited Rev. John Russell Stanger to read it as my closing prayer for the sermon today.
May grace meet us as at God’s table. May we join in Jesus prayer of unity. May the mercy of God hold us all.
And the Table Will Be Wide
A Blessing for World Communion Sunday
And the table
will be wide.
And the welcome
will be wide.
And the arms
will open wide
to gather us in.
And our hearts
will open wide
And we will come
as children who trust
there is enough.
And we will come
unhindered and free.
And our aching
will be met
And our sorrow
will be met
And we will open our hands
to the feast
And we will turn
toward each other
And we will give up
And we will taste
And we will become bread
for a hungering world.
And we will become drink
for those who thirst.
And the blessed
will become the blessing.
will be the feast.