Today is world communion Sunday, a day in which we focus on the part of our call that is feeding each other, feeding the needy, feeding the world. It is a day that we celebrate that God is with us when we eat together and feed one another, because it is God who is actually doing the feeding. Sarah Miles, in her book Take this Bread, put it this way, “it’s the really hungry who can smell fresh bread a mile away. For those who know their need, God is immediate – not an idea, not a theory, but life, food, air for the stifled spirit and the beaten, despised, exploited body.” That is what is offered in communion, in this last supper in the sacrament of this meal. We are offered food, yes, but more we are offered life, we are offered Jesus himself – his body, his blood, his presence here in this meal. Sarah Miles continued, “What Jesus offered was a radical…love that accompanied people in the most ordinary actions – eating, drinking, walking, and stayed with them, through fear, even past death.” She connects all of this with Jesus’ call and command to Peter…She said, “I couldn’t stop thinking about another (Biblical) story: Jesus instructing his beloved, fallible disciple Peter exactly how to love him: ‘Feed my sheep.’ Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” Peter fussed, “Of course I love you.’ “Feed my sheep.” Peter fussed some more. “Do you love me?” asked Jesus again. “Then feed my sheep.” It seemed pretty clear. If I wanted to see God, I could feed people.”
Sara Miles was actually converted to faith – she came to know the living Christ through the experience to taking communion. When we read about Jesus feeding the 5000, my guess is that this was the conversion moment for many of them as well. In the taking of food that God has given us, the food of Christ, the body of the Word, we experience God. We are converted and reconverted to God. When we feed others, when we offer them the bread of life, literally, we invite them to experience God as well. Sara walked into a church one day an atheist on an anthropological mission to understand what people saw and experienced in church. But she was invited to take communion that day. She described her experience this way. She wrote, “And then we gathered around that table. And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of the fresh crumbly bread in my hands, saying ‘the body of Christ,’ and handing me the goblet of sweet wine, saying ‘the blood of Christ,’ and then something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me. I still can’t explain my first communion. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I had just stepped off a curb, or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening—I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening—the piece of bread was the “body” of “Christ,” a patently untrue, or at best metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening—God, named “Christ” or “Jesus,” was real, and in my mouth—utterly short-circuited my ability to do anything but cry.... that impossible word, "Jesus," lodged in me like a crumb. I said it over and over to myself, as if repetition would help me understand. I had no idea what it meant, I didn’t know what to do with it. But it was realer than any thought of mine, or even any subjective emotion: it was as real as the actual taste of the bread and the wine. And the word was indisputably in my body now, as if I'd swallowed a radioactive pellet that would outlive my own flesh." (quote from book p.58 of Take This Bread).
Sara’s belief in the meal, the feast of communion as an honest to goodness feeding of people led Sara Miles to begin a soup kitchen in San Francisco that now feeds thousands of people every week. Her soup kitchen is based on her understanding of communion…volunteers and guests eat together, commune together, with prayer, in a sacred space – in their sanctuary because it is for her where communion should take place. It is a feast – and it is a feeding of the thousands again and again. As such, it has also become a place of conversion for many – a place of deep renewal and recognition of Christ, of Jesus among them in the meal.
I’d like to play for you a song written and sung by David Bailey that echoes this understanding of communion, called Big Joe.
(I could not find a way to insert this here, but here are the words):
It was just another Sunday at the big church down on main. He was just another homeless man, Big Joe was his name. She was just a kitchen helper, Miss Betty mild and meek, who prepared the sacred elements, every single week. Well the prayers had all been said, the hymns had all been sung. The pastor set the table, invited everyone. Big Joe heard the music, he took a step inside. He saw a bunch of well dressed folks who looked like they were trying to hide. He saw a man in fancy robes hold up a loaf of bread, tear it into pieces. And Big Joe thought he said, “All ye who are hungry…” Joe thought, “That’s me!” So he walked on down the aisle, hoping it was free. Well the pastor looked uneasy, not sure what to do. But the usher held the plate out and said “broken just for you.” Big Joe felt pretty lucky, then they handed him some wine. The cups were pretty small but it tasted pretty fine
Then he said to the usher, “That bread was good. Could I have a little more? Do you think I could?” Now the usher looked uneasy, looked a bit confused. Then he said “I'm sorry sir. That's not how this bread is used.” Joe said “I'd like to talk to the master of this meal. I'd really like to know just exactly how he feels. 'Cause up there on the table I can see it plain as day: You got a half a loaf left over - you’re gonna throw that away. Cause I got a bunch of friends – they’re sleeping in the street - right outside your door and they could use a bite to eat.” Well the ushers got to talking, then began to shout. Then before you know it, a fight had broken out. Meanwhile miss Betty slipped away, to the kitchen she did go, filled a basket up with bread. She brought it back to Joe. She said “Take this to your friends and you come on back next week”. Joe said “As you've done to them - you've done to me!” That's how it all got started at the big church down on Main, where people come from miles away to break bread in His name! Hallelujah!
When Jesus began the last supper, he said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” He ate a real meal with his disciples. Yes, it was a ritual, it was Passover, but it was a ritual meal – one where there was talking, laughter, sharing…not the serious contemplative quiet taking of a tiny bite, but real and genuine fellowship and communion. He was eager to share in this meal with his disciples, not only because he recognized that it would be his last Passover meal in this realm with them, but also because of all that it meant to him to eat with his disciples. It was fellowship. It was food. It was community and deep communion. It was a teaching time in which he shared with them that he would remain with them in this meal even beyond his death. It was an invitation to be in communion with God. It was prayer. It was being together with Christ at every level. We are called to do the same. For me, our coffee hour and the meals we share – these are communion for us as the body of Christ. The times when we eat with people at Bethany or at the Community meal, when we give lunches to the children over the summer or provide food bags for the families over the long weekends – when we share food with those who need it – this is the communion of Jesus feeding the 5000. And today we share in the meal with people all over the world, celebrating Christ with one another, inviting the Word into our bodies in a concrete, tangible, and real way, inviting a deeper relationship with Christ and with one another.I have one more song I would like to share with you. I ask you to pay close attention to the words that appear at the bottom of the pictures regularly.
Standing with one another around the world – standing by one another around the world …that is also another way to celebrate world communion Sunday. To be in fellowship together…to work together to build something international – namely the body of Christ…to eat together. That is world communion Sunday. That is what we do this day. As we prepare to take communion, I invite you to remember our unity, to remember that Jesus fed anyone who came and invited everyone to the table, to remember that we are Christ’s body – not just the body of our respective churches – but the body of Christ: united in our love for him and for God, united by this meal, this music, this fellowship – this is communion. Amen.