By mtaylor | Wednesday, October 5, 2016 | 10:06 AM
Isa. 55: 1-5; Phil. 3: 4b-14
October 2, 2016, Communion Sunday
Rev. Rosemary McMahan
I heard a story several years ago that I always remember on World Communion Sunday. It seems that the parents of a certain four-year old girl would not let her partake of the Lord’s Supper because, as they explained to their young minister, she was too young to understand what was happening. Each time communion was served, the parents and their daughter would come forward to receive, and the child would reach for the bread, but the parents would shake their heads, “no,” at the minister.
As time went on, this tender-hearted minister began dreading Communion Sunday because he knew he’d have to tell the little girl no and watch her walk away in tears. And when the occasion arrived again, the same thing happened. The family came forward, the little girl raised her hands, and the minister sadly shook his head no. But as the trio was stepping aside, the little girl looked up at the minister, a frown on her face, and loudly proclaimed, “You’re not sharing!” at which point the minister quickly handed her a piece of bread which she consumed with a smile.
After the service, the parents tracked down their disobedient pastor and roundly scolded him. “We told you that our daughter is not old enough to receive communion. We told you that she doesn’t understand what is happening!” At that explanation, the minister replied quietly, “And you do? Will you please, then, explain it to me?” The discussion was over and from then on the little girl joyfully partook of the Supper of the Lord.
What “happens” during The Lord’s Supper runs the gamut from the Baptist belief that it is a memorial, a re-enactment of what Jesus did with no particular spiritual significance, to the Roman Catholic view that holds that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, to the Reformed Presbyterian view that Christ is spiritually present in the real elements of bread and cup. Historically, wars have been fought, kings have usurped thrones, and people have been martyred, over affirming what the “true” meaning of this sacrament is.
"I want to know Christ," writes Paul to the church in Philippi, to know the “name of Jesus to which every knee should bend … and every tongue confess” as he states in Phil 2:10-11. In Paul's letter to this group of new Christians, written while he was in prison, he pours out his heart and soul to a trusted, loving community. He shares with them his deepest, most spiritually mature desire, to know Jesus. And part of knowing the name of Jesus, Paul realizes, is to experience Christ's suffering, and so he rejoices while imprisoned and uncertain about his own fate.
All we have to do to understand the power of names is to look at one of the first stories in Scripture, Adam's naming of all living things in the garden. To name something is to claim it as one's own and to give it a unique identity. That's why we spend so much time agonizing over the perfect name for our children. When we receive the name of "Christian," we are marked by Jesus Christ and given a unique identity as his followers. Jesus knows us, but do we know Jesus for there is a significant difference in knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus? The first educates; the second transforms.
That brings us to World Communion Sunday. Since 1933, this day, which began within the Presbyterian Church, has become a time when Christians across many denominations demonstrate their unity around the table, by breaking bread and sharing the cup in the name of Jesus, as a way to know him and to remember and affirm Christ as Head of the Church and the source of our salvation. We remember that the table from which we receive and commune is Christ's table - not our own. No matter where Christians may be gathered—in a high steeple church, a mud hut, outside in a field, in a meeting house, or in a store front—we gather to REMEMBER that we are part of the whole Body of Christ. We gather to REMEMBER the great sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross and to REMEMBER that grace-filled sacrament which he left us. Together, across the world, we remember whose we are and who we are.
Re-membering. Claiming and re-claiming our name as Christians. Putting ourselves back together in the name of Christ, which is what First Presbyterian is doing, knowing Jesus together within the Body of Christ. These are the roles of memory-bearers as we gather today.
The role of being a memory-bearer also belonged to Jesus Christ. In his preaching and in his teaching, he constantly reminded his listeners that they were God’s people, and that they belonged to a creator who had infinite love for them. But he was also a transformer of memory. “You’ve heard it said, but I now say to you,” were words Jesus spoke many times. Jesus took the old Law with all its “do not’s” and restrictions and impossibilities and he transformed it into a simple statement, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor, as yourself.” Through his birth, ministry, suffering and resurrection, Jesus changed knowing about God into knowing God.
At the Last Supper, Jesus embraced the role of memory-bearer and of transformer. He remembered the Passover, the Exodus story, with his closest friends. And then he transformed that same Passover with bread and cup as he prepared himself to be the sacrificial lamb that would save God's people--us. He demonstrated through common objects, bread and cup, the story of suffering and resurrection so that his followers--us--could remember.
So he took the bread, the foodstuff of every day, and he lifted it, blessed it, and broke it. "This is my body," he told his friends, "broken for you.” Then Jesus passed it on to his friends, including Judas, whose very feet he also washed. No one is excluded from the new covenant of a new life. Jesus told them, "Each time you do this, each time you break bread together, remember me. Put yourselves back together in my name. Press on toward the goal. Resurrect your lives through the gift of my grace given to you because I remember you.”
And then he took the cup full of wine. Vineyards and grapes and wine were again ordinary, everyday, items and staples. Jesus poured the wine into a cup and he said that the wine was his own blood, the sign of the new covenant, the new promise, of resurrection. And Jesus instructed his friends not to remember about him, but to remember him, Jesus Christ, God-with-Us, and the sacrifice he was about to make, for them, and for us.
It's one thing to know about Christ, those things we learn in Sunday School and Bible Study, which are an important part of our journeys. But it's another to know Christ. We come to know Christ in scripture, in worship, in service, and in the breaking of the bread, in the sharing of the cup, where we receive the mystery of Christ’s presence and his grace. There can be no true knowledge of another, whether of another human being or of God, apart from a living encounter. In the sacraments, we encounter the living God when we claim the gifts of God for the people of God—us.
Our theology teaches us that this meal is more than a simple re-enactment of the Last Supper. This meal is a way for us, like Paul, to know Jesus Christ and to be nourished to press forward in our own lives and spiritual journeys. It isn’t just about putting ourselves back together, though; we are also called, through it, to put the world back together. As First Presbyterian Church continues on its own spiritual journey this World Communion Sunday, I encourage you to embrace the gift of the Lord’s Supper and to allow it to heal your own wounds, whatever they may be, to allow it to put you back together, to re-member you as beloved children of God. Then I encourage you to discern how this congregation can go forth from these four walls and re-member this community, this world. May you be memory-bearers and transformers, so overflowing with Christ’s gift of grace that no one can say “You aren’t sharing.”