Introduction to Communion on Anabaptist World Fellowship Sunday

Acts 2:42-47

I’ve talked to a few of you this past week, and all of you said you were surprised at the emotion that came over you as you watched the Inauguration on Wednesday. For many of you, Joe wasn’t your guy, nor was Kamala your “gal.” Many of you, and I include myself in this, believe Joe is far from the radical change we need in this country, and we are committed to pushing his Administration to make those changes. And yet, that ritual of watching him and Kamala being sworn in was calming and grounding and relieving for many of us after an intense two weeks, after a very intense two months, after an unrelentingly intense four years. I think many of us felt that we could take a deep breath again. Many of us felt part of something bigger than us, something that had the potential, the promise, of bringing us closer to our deepest dreams of justice, of healing, of hope for the future.

That was a lot of heavy lifting for one hour-long ritual.

For thousands of years, Jewish  people have used the ritual of the Passover Seder to remind themselves of their story of liberation. Every year, they tell each other: We were once slaves to pharaoh in Egypt. No matter how much their lives may now be ones of privilege and ease, this act of moral memory reminds them that their religion is a religion of slaves who were chosen by God and freed by God, and that they have a special purpose, a special place in history which is is to come alongside all those who are enslaved and in need of liberation. There’s a reason so many Jewish people were at the forefront of  the civil rights movement. Because they know they were once slaves to pharaoh in Egypt. 

That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a two-hour ritual.

In a few moments, we’re going to participate in a ritual that’s about 2000 years old. It springs directly from the Seder, but has taken on its own various meanings in the centuries since. I’m going to pluck out just one strand of that meaning. Thanks to Jim Brenneman, who has done a lot of thinking about Communion in his former role as a pastor and Scripture scholar, and whose work I’ll be referencing. thought I’ll be using. (All references are from articles Jim sent me — one entitled “The Lord’s Table: Open and Affirming” and “Turning the Tables: War, Peace and the Last Supper.”)

I didn’t realize until I read an article Jim had written that the Greek word translated as “fellowship” in our passage from Acts— as in “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” — is actually koinania, a word that also means communion.  And that word — koinania, or communion or fellowship — is related to other phrases in this passage like, “were together” and “had all things in common” and “they spent much time together.” In fact, as Jim says, “nineteen times when… koinania.. is used in the New Testament it is translated as ‘fellowship,’ ‘sharing,’ ‘contributing to others,’ or ‘having things ‘in common,’ (and) being ‘in communion.’”

In other words, as Jim says, communion, for the early church, “wasn’t just a special ritual to be celebrated once a month or every week or twice a year in the worship service. Communion was the daily practice of sharing their meals and possessions with one another, so that no one would go away hungry or without warm clothes or a place to sleep at night.”

In a different passage, Paul writes to the church in Corinth, and he’s not happy with how they are celebrating communion Lord’s Supper. Back then, the Lord’s Supper was a whole meal, not just a little bite of bread and a sip of wine. For some of the poorer members of that community, the Lord’s Supper may have been their only sure meal for that day. But Paul says that some of the members of the church in Corinth — presumably the wealthier ones — are eating their big meals — even getting drunk —  while others in the community are going hungry. The food is not being shared equitably. Paul is furious with them for this, and even says that the reason some of them are getting sick and dying is because of this lack of equitable sharing, because they are not coming to the Lord’s table “worthily,” as he says.  

As Jim notes, Paul is insisting that the “communion table, as in Acts, was meant to be a tangible expression of economic justice for all who participate.” It is meant to be a table that dissolves all rankings that divide us — a table where there is nor Jew nor Greek, nor slave nor free, nor male nor female. It is supposed to be the the table of the beloved community, where hierarchal rankings are overturned and we come together as equals before our Creator, each in need of grace and each in need of forgiveness — those who are privileged in the hierarchy perhaps most of all. As Jim says, “In a world that still too often divides itself by rank and status, which in turn too easily escalates into mimetic violence, communion fellowship should be a practice that overturns the age old perception and reality of the church on most Sunday mornings being the most segregated, economically stratified, and war infatuated institution in the world.” 

That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a 15-minute ritual.  

Communion is our powerful ritual. And especially on this Anabaptist World Fellowship Sunday, this ritual reminds us that while many of us here — not all of us — while many of us live lives of privilege and ease, we are in fellowship with people of Anabaptist faith all over the world, who don’t live such lives.  We are in fellowship with people who are poor, who may not have enough food for the day. We are in fellowship with communities who have been impacted by U.S. violence — by our undemocratic imperialism and our economic neocolonialism.  Today, we commit to being beloved community together. Today, we celebrate that we are a part of something bigger than us, something that has the potential, the promise, of bringing us closer to our deepest dreams of justice, of healing, of hope for the future. May it be so. Amen.