Today all over the world, churches of all sorts of denominations will gather to celebrate communion. World Communion Sunday is an opportunity to embrace the embodiment of the infinite variety that exists in within the communities of our fellow Followers of the Way. Today, we uphold the reality that no matter how communion is celebrated we Followers of the Way are all companions. For to be a companion is to literally share bread together. The word companion is made up of two Latin words, “com which means “with or together” and “panis” which means “bread”. To break bread together is to be a companion.
Humans began engaging in the sacred act of breaking bread together generations before Jesus embraced the sacred act of sharing a meal together to strengthen the bonds of companionship among his followers.
How many of you remember the very first time you participated in the companionship of communion? I suspect that for many of us are of an age where we can remember when are communion practices were less inclusive than they are today. For several generations many mainline denominations tried to limit communion to those who had been “properly” instructed in the “meaning” of communion. In Lutheran churches children often had to wait until after they were Confirmed in order to be welcomed at the table. Back then, Communion wasn’t so much celebrated as it was endured as a sort of ritual reward for penance. Fortunately, we have come a long way from the somber communion rites of the past. But, I suspect that many of us still carry the residue of less than life-affirming theologies that taught us to view Communion as a sort of ritual that needs to be endured as a way to remember a “blood sacrifice”, a kind of quid pro quo for our sinfulness.
I can still remember my very first communion. It was, for all sorts of reasons, a life changing experience. Fortunately, for me my first Communion was free from the trappings of penitence. There was little or no thought of a blood sacrifice for sin. You see, my first Communion happened by way of what some would call an oversite or an accident, but I think of as a grace-filled DIVINE blessing.
As I’ve told you before, I did not grow up in the Church. My family’s experiences in Belfast had shown us the worst that the Church can offer and so, my brother and I were never encouraged to go anywhere near a Church of any kind. We were baptized as infants as a kind of insurance policy and I never darkened the doorway of a church until I was fifteen years old. I was an incredibly lonely teenager. I had spent my childhood moving from place to place, country to country, school to school; always on the move. I learned very early not to make friends with people because if you make friends it is so much more painful when you have to move away.
Longing and loneliness were predominant emotions that characterized the deep homesickness of my younger self. Looking back to my younger self, I can see a little girl who was homesick for a home she never really knew because when you move about as much as we did, no place ever feels like home. Eventually all you can feel is this deep longing for something you cannot quite name. So, one day, at the tender age of fifteen, a new acquaintance that I was tempted to turn into a friendship, invited me to come to church with her.
I say that Valerie invited me to come to church, but the truth is she bribed me to come to church with her and I was curious enough about the church and about this new person in my life, and so I accepted the bribe. And that’s how I found myself in a Lutheran Church on the fifth Sunday of the month. Some of you might remember that in addition to festival days, whenever there were five Sundays in a month, there would be communion. Remember, I told you that Communion was often endured rather than celebrated. Well it wasn’t until the liturgical renewal movement of the late 70s and 80s that we began celebrating Communion every Sunday.
Anyway, there I was a total newbie, sitting in worship, having endured a sermon, and wondering when it would all be over and we could go back to Valerie’s for lunch, when the this strange ritual called “Holy Eucharist” began to unfold. I had absolutely no idea what was happening. By the time people began to be ushered into lines, I knew that I was out of place.
I remember leaning over to Valerie’s mother, who earlier had announced that I should call her by her first name, something unheard of in all the places I had lived. Anyway, I leaned over to Lola and asked her what I should do. Lola, sensing that I was not Lutheran, asked gently told me that I was welcome to share some bread and wine with everyone as a way of remembering Jesus. Remembering Jesus didn’t seem like a bad idea to me. I knew a little something about Jesus and I kinda liked this guy that I saw as a social revolutionary. I was very interested in history and politics even back then, and I was attracted to Jesus’ politics. But remembering Jesus’ was not the hook that got me up to that altar rail to receive my first Communion. What motivated me back then is what continues to motivate me now. I was invited to share something special, something extra-ordinary, with people; people who until that very moment were strangers, strangers that were willing to include me.
There is nothing quite like the possibility of being included, especially when you’ve lived your life as an outside, to open a person up to all sorts of possibilities. I remember, remembering Jesus. I remember the small wafer that the pastor called the “body of Jesus” and the ever so little sip of wine, which I had never tasted in my young life, I do remember thinking it odd to call a drink the “blood of Christ” but all of this pale in comparison to remembering that I was included in something very special because these nice people insisted that this bread and wine was given and shed for me. “For me” I was included. I didn’t have the vocabulary to name my feelings. Looking back the word “companionship” captures the overwhelming emotion of being included.
Looking back on my first Communion, I am all too aware that it could have gone differently. Lola could have told me that I should wait in my seat while those who had been instructed in the “meaning and purpose” of Communion were served. She could have been gracious about it and suggested that if I wanted to learn more about Communion we could talk after the service. But she didn’t follow the rules which she had been taught. Instead, she simply said, “Would you like to join us for some bread and wine.”
I don’t remember how I answered her. I just remember the gentle way Lola guided me to the aisle and as we waited our turn, she showed me how to cup my hands to receive the bread and told me how to take a small sip from the cup of wine. I remember watching as people kneeled at the rail and I remember Lola’s encouraging look as I cupped my hands in anticipation. I remember the feeling of being a part of something so much bigger than myself. I remember worrying that I might be struck by lightning by God I wasn’t exactly sure I believed in. But most of all, I remember wanting to know more about what it might mean to have faith. For faith was what these wonderful welcoming people had, and I desperately wanted some of their faith.
Jesus responds to his disciples’ plea for more faith by telling them a parable. Jesus says, wait just a minute, you don’t really need all that much faith, all you need is a little bit, no bigger than a mustard seed. Just a little faith can move mountains or mulberry bushes or whatever else you want to move.
Notice Jesus’ response to the disciple’s request for an increase in faith. He doesn’t talk about believing more, believing harder, believing better, or believing at all. Jesus’ response has nothing to do with belief. It focuses on doing – faith is the power to accomplish something – even the impossible. If the disciples had the faith, Jesus says, the size of even a mustard seed they could command a mountain to jump in a lake and it would, or a mulberry bush to uproot itself and be planted in the sea, and it would obey.
Jesus is not very subtle. His rhetoric is quite clear. But somehow, maybe because it’s convenient, we tend to miss the point that Jesus is trying to make. Maybe it’s easier that way. After all, if we hear what Jesus is saying it may have major consequences. We might actually have to do something.
Faith is a way of life. Faith is not about believing. Faith is about deep-seated confidence, about trust. Belief is more like an opinion. We can believe something to be true without it ever making any difference to us. We can say, I don’t know if that is true, but I believe that it is. I believe that my relative wealth is the result of an economic system that oppresses the poor. I can believe that as strongly or as deeply as I want, without ever doing anything about it.
Faith is trusting that there’s a better way and embarking down that road. Faith has nothing to do with waiting around until you have all your ducks in a row. Faith is just taking off down that way, trusting that you’ll find a way. You don’t really need a whole lot of faith to change reality. Just a little dab will do ya!
One or two, or three, or four faithful people can change the world. It happens all the time. Each and every day, faithful people manage to change the world. You don’t need more than a mustard seed’s worth of faith to change reality. Faith is not about believing or understanding. Faith is about doing. I will always be grateful to Lola for the way in which she faithfully embodied grace and without knowing or understanding anything about me, she opened up a whole new way of being in the world to me. Even though I didn’t understand or know or believe, Lola’s little bit of faith was and is a gift, a blessing for which I shall always be grateful.
Today, on this World Communion Sunday, we are all invited to consider the wonders that our little bit of faith can accomplish in the world. This dear sisters and brothers is the companionship we share.
The companionship of faith that can empower, nourish, ground, and sustain us as we follow the Way of the ONE who embodied the LOVE that we call God, in ways that inspire the kind of faith that trusts that simple acts of human-kindness, however small, have the power to change the world. Just a little dab of faith will do ya! For it is in the doing that faith has the power to move mountains. Let us break bread together dear friends. Just a little bread and a little wine will do Just a little and we shall be companions. Then, let us embody our faith by doing the work of LOVE.